• The church has so many items in its shop window today that people have lost sight of the cross (Derick Prince).
  • The same temptation to self-reliance that keeps secularists from depending on God can keep Christians from depending on his Spirit. When we fall to this satanic deception (Genesis 3:5), our fallen culture pays the price (Jim Denison).                                                                                                    
  • Your highest calling is to love Jesus… not pastor a church (Lance Witt).
  • To be a witness means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist (Madeleine L’Engle)

Text: John 16: 36 ‘Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

Considering that the gospel has come through so many cultures and languages, might there be a layer of beliefs that twist the understanding of what was intended, leaving some people sincere but sincerely wrong? There are words Jesus spoke that should cause anyone who desires to spend eternity with Christ to pause: ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’ (Matthew 7:13-14) It is not enough just to keep travelling, but it is important to ensure that one is on the right path. Finding the narrow gate that leads to eternal life should be the main drive of our Christian journey of faith. What makes the finding of the road that leads to eternal life a basic necessity is that we are human beings who are changing every day.  Paul describes our changing body as a jar of clay. ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). In addition to our changing spiritually, physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and economically, the world in which we live is also changing.  It is therefore necessary to continually figure out how we relate with the ever-changing culture that Christians are meant to live in.

Culture is defined as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, laws, customs and any other capabilities acquired by man as a member of society” (Edward B Taylor).  It is through culture that we live, move and make meaning of life because it integrates systems of beliefs, feelings and values. The patterns of thinking, feeling and reacting, communicated through symbols and other labels that people come up with, determine how they view themselves, others, and the concept of what happens after death which gives a powerful orientation to how people do life. It is the people’s culture that shapes the systems in which they operate and their view of the world. Seeking a clearer understanding of how to relate with the cultural beliefs in the light of eternity is not an option but a necessity. Considering that the gospel has come through so many cultures and languages, might there be a layer of beliefs that twist the understanding of what was intended, leaving some people sincere but sincerely wrong? The truth of Scripture and the message that Jesus came to live among us, died for our sins, and rose again so that we can have life, is a message that does not change.

The gospel with added cultural trappings loses power, leaving people craving for approval of others and obtaining what they think will buy God’s favor while deeply lost. Listen carefully to Jesus’ words ‘“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7: 21-23).  Please stop and reconsider whether Christ’s nature is in you, and you are feeding from the fountain of life that He is or you are just having behaviour modification.

The major conflict we find in all the gospels is Jesus Christ refusing to be trapped in the culture in which he was born and nurtured.

Family – The submission of the believer to God’s will is what Jesus said defines His relationship with those who believe ‘While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”’ (Matthew 12:46-50). One of the trappings is when some people who have organized the gathering of believers (church), get concerned about how their family will become heir to the organization. While money was raised using God’s name, in a subtle way the organization becomes a family investment. To justify the abuse and misuse of God’s name, there is a biased interpretation of scriptures that puts some people in positions of high honor. The use of titles and symbols that separate and help elevate individuals become normalized. While it is dangerous to build one’s worldview on a lie, it is lethal for one to use God’s name to promote self and self-interests.  There are fathers of faith who demand to be honored and appreciated, espoused as the ones called to be the ‘mediators between God and man’. There is careful selection of scriptures to support the line of thought picked for sustenance of the elevated status. That creates a culture that results in people who do not know what it is to belong to the kingdom of God. It is self-deception to assume that God knows one by the title and the symbols he/she uses. Using God’s name to gain greatness is a form of misuse of God’s name. Get to the root cause of your insecurity. God’s command, not suggestion, is ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name’ (Exodus 20:7).

The dangers of creating a culture that supports cultural beliefs more than the kingdom of God beliefs.

Act on natural inclination– Human nature tends to fill in gaps in ways that follow the path of least resistance. Instead of having to pray and wait on the Lord, do that which makes things happen. Subconsciously, the subtle craving for power guides the thinking into the use of manipulation to control the subdued. The result of this is a detour of the mission of Christ. The seekers who would become disciples, are made objects of use to serve the ‘man of God’ who is source of blessings and whose prayers open doors. Once believers, who are meant to be prophets, light and salt in the community in which they are deceived, darkness rules. Corruption, mediocrity, helplessness, assigning blame to others, becoming part of a mob of angry dissatisfied people result once people neglect the sacrifice that Jesus became.

Use of terminology in ways that support what one desires– The use of language directs people in what to see, think and interpret. Language is the store of what people know, believe and act on. For example, the term ‘called’ can be misleading. In an economy where job opportunities are scarce, and God is taken for granted, people can say they are called because they are working in a religious system but that was the only job available.  This has resulted in using church as a ‘kiosk’ for raising personal income. Some people see nothing wrong with being paid for having started their churches. Was the preaching done in response to God’s sending or it was a personal initiative? If personal, then that is a work of flesh. Please note, there is a difference of organizational pension arrangement and manipulation using God’s name. While it is important to have people working in organizing others, it is good to acknowledge and create an environment conducive for the usage of the gifts God has given His workers, the believers. No one should be in an engagement that is not God’s placement. To some, working in the church was the employment available, and may bring worldly thinking and public relations gimmicks with no realization of the reason for believers to gather together.  Some tasks that are referred to as ‘ministry’ can also mislead. That could imply that there are times when Spirit filled disciples of Christ are off duty. When Jesus walked on the face of the earth wherever he went was on duty. ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17).  Can one be a Jesus’ disciple and not be on duty 24 hours of the seven days in the week? Making some tasks ‘holy’ is a deep cultural issue that does not align with what Jesus was and taught. Wherever Jesus went, the power of God was manifested and so should be his disciples.

How to encourage a culture that inclines people to seek God.

Repent – If you have had a time when you knew the grace of God then take time to seek God. Have time to evaluate the beliefs and thoughts that make up your mental attitude, inclination, and predisposition. Are there fears that cause you to act the way you do? That is what has to be surrendered to God. Examine whether you are relying on your own understanding and be honest. Allow the word of God to search you. The fear of losing power that you have built or helped to support is genuine, but the Lord will be your strength.

Clarity on desired destination – Desired destination determines mental posture, speed and relationships. If the desired destination is eternity with Christ, then you have to accept that he became the sacrifice required by God for the forgiveness of our sins. That means, no other blood is needed. If you have accepted the lordship of Christ, then the blessing of God as was intended (Genesis 1:28a) is yours.

Know and act on the contents of the book of law – It is the word of God that transforms cultural thinking patterns by renewing the mind (Romans 12:1-2). Joshua, in taking the mantle from Moses, was advised to meditate on the book of law, day and night (Joshua 1:9). The social and main media, the history, the flesh, the devil are all against the establishment of Gods kingdom, the reason for which Jesus Christ was born, as he told Pilate. Motivational talks meant to increase the numbers and a lot of entertainment may cause people to get the ‘feel good’ that can be said to be God’s presence. There is a need to renounce the cultural beliefs that make the grace of God cheap. Telling people that they are blessed because of the ‘seed’ they sow undermines the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Though culturally appropriate to give bereaved people psychological satisfaction of a relative going to be with the Lord by saying we are giving him a dignified send off, it can also give false hope. While issues of eternity with good names in the book of life and being part of the Lord’s supper, are dependent on God, we cannot use our earthly grading to assume to usher or take responsibility of determining who is welcome. The Hymns that those who have gone ahead of us sung are very good but some of the truth must be tested against scripture.  Listen to Apostle Paul, ‘Rather, I discipline my body and bring it under control, for fear that after preaching to others I myself may be disqualified.’(1 Corinthians 9:27).

Recognize that God is sovereign over His creation – God has a design of what he wants with His creation, and it is wise to align one’s will with God’s will. The events that took place around the arresting, trial, execution of Jesus Christ all fit into an already thought-out plan of salvation. God’s plan will be realized but for those who take his grace for granted are warned: ‘We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.’ (Hebrews 2:1-3).

Culture is such an integrated complex of beliefs that it is possible to have behaviours change but hearts remain indifferent to the cross of Jesus and his mission. What that means is that the spiritual conditions of those who claim to be believers remain the same. It is possible to believe that one is saved but in real truth is a false convert. The whole gathering of people can proclaim that one has gone to be with the Lord while in actual fact there never was a walk with Jesus Christ but a deep commitment to systems that represent pseudo-Christ. Jesus told Martha ‘… “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25) The walk with Christ begins while one is in the body and on earth where nature and culture are quite intimately connected one with the other. It is a fact that Christians are products of their cultures, and they live life within their cultural frames. Yet there is receiving the power to become a child of God for who Christ prayed saying ‘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.’ (John 17:14 – 17). It is important to have a deep reflection on how the cultural beliefs, particularly those refined to look like the word of God, are influencing your thoughts and actions. What do you do when you realize that there are Christians acting in ways that violate Christian beliefs, confusing and misleading an already secularized society?

Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us (A W Tozer)