Category Archives: Culture

The Shame Spiral

For fourteen years Margaret from Accounts had admired Geoff from HR but felt unworthy. For the same fourteen years he felt she was out of his league. What a waste of a decade and a half! It was nothing to do with lack of attraction and everything to do with personal shame.

There’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times from people in my neighbourhood, about my church: “Oh, you wouldn’t want someone like me.” At first I took it as a polite way of turning down an invitation. Then I began reading into it, and got defensive, thinking: “What – do you think we’re a bunch of superior Pharisees looking down on everyone?”

Then finally, having heard it several times, I began to wonder about taking it at face value. What if it’s an expression of shame? What if shame is a major reason for people to avoid church and decline invitations? Then a big question: What if we hear the declining of the invitation and it brings out our own shame? Are our events not good enough? Is our music not musical enough? Is our teaching boring, our morning tea too mundane, our people too ordinary?

We redouble our efforts to put on an even better event next year, and the invitation is knocked back again. It’s frustrating. We stare across the sparsely-filled car park at the neighbourhood and silently wish we could somehow be good enough for our neighbours … who may be staring right back from behind their lace curtains, a bit bitter at the church that would surely reject them.

Where this dynamic is true, we have a different challenge in our outreach. Not to persuade people of Jesus’ magnificence or the church’s excellence, but of the enormous value of each person and how deeply wanted they are by God and us.

I remember receiving the business card of a Korean pastor. His contact details were small, but in large letters across the front was this simple sentence: “You are very important to God.” To those who say or think “You wouldn’t want someone like me” we need to find a way to respond with “Oh, if only you knew!” What a strange moment when Margaret from Accounts and Geoff from HR finally connected and discovered what had truly been going on all that time. The spiral of shame robs us all, but Christ has overcome it. As his agents, perhaps it’s time for us to be a little more shameless in reaching out? And more sensitive to the shame of others.

The Justice of Evangelism

There’s two words you don’t see together very much: Justice and Evangelism.

Each of them is a buzz-word, a shibboleth (a word from the Book of Judges that helps you know who to kill and who not to).  If you go around using the “E Word” you’re this kind of Christian, and if you go around using the “J Word” you’re that kind of Christian. But sacred agents need to be savvy enough to rise above that false dichotomy.

Because the two are deeply, indeed perfectly, connected.

If you have plenty of water, and a neighbour is thirsty, is it justice to not give them some? (We get that, don’t we?) But if you know the source of plenty of water, the location of a Spring – is it justice if you don’t tell thirsty people where to get it? So with the Living Water we know comes only from Christ.

Justice calls us to evangelism. When we sit on the explosively great news we have, we’re not only doing the wrong thing by Jesus (who said “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory”), we’re doing the wrong thing by our neighbours and the wrong thing by the world, which will never thrive whilst estranged from God.

And as justice calls us to evangelism, so our evangelism calls people everywhere to true Justice. Like Paul’s message to the Athenians, ours points people to a coming Judge, and therefore to a real repentance and new life that goes far beyond sitting around with our friends in delightful echo chambers. It calls people to follow Jesus and join his ministry among the poor, the marginalised, the oppressed and the overlooked.

No one wants change more than Jesus does. But He shows us that the world is not improved through nagging, shaming and propaganda. These things perpetuate the ‘fight’ and bring a self-satisfying sense of struggle, but they don’t result in the lasting just-peace people claim to be fighting for. Real, lasting transformation, from selfish to responsible living, comes when people meet Jesus, find peace with God, and have their hearts and minds transformed by the Spirit. Have we not known this for some time?

So if you love Jesus, or if you are concerned for this dying planet and its suffering inhabitants, or maybe possibly even both, then live by the Spirit and give as freely as you have received: openly point others to the Source of life and Key to lasting change.

Where Do I Sign?

It’s a massive decision to submit yourself to Jesus and become a Christian. Just think about the sheer magnitude of that event: It impacts one’s work and career choices, family and partner relationships, one’s finances, calendar, and deeper still, one’s very sense of identity. Indeed, If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!2Co5:17

As sacred agents move among those to whom we’re sent, we can sometimes despair that any of them would be willing to make such a giant leap. They seem so entrenched in their way of life. This week has reminded me that people do make giant life shifts, and more often than we think. A daughter of one friend is leaving home and across the continent to move in with her boyfriend in a new city. Another friend has a job opportunity on a Caribbean cruise ship and could fly out any day. And another friend (who knew I had three?) is eyeing off a career in the armed forces.

I’m not saying any of these are good choices. But they’re all giant choices. Leave-behind-life-as-you-knew-it choices. Each one is rather sudden. Each one is leaving family and friends scrambling to come to terms with this seismic shift. So I’m reminded that just because someone is entrenched doesn’t mean that they like their trench; many dream of a new start. In these three cases, the dream has come within reach, and they value it so highly that they’ll pay the price of giving up their old life. Cheerfully, even.

It’s all raised one more big question for me. In each of these three cases, the new life can be quite clearly imagined. They might be starry-eyed, sure, but they pretty much know what’s involved, what needs to be organised, and where to sign up. It’s challenged me, as a recruiter for a greater adventure than the military, a deeper peace than the Caribbean, and a better lover than the interstate boyfriend – do the people I’m reaching have a clear idea of the phenomenal thing that is a Christian life, and how to access it, and where to sign?

Rat Smelling

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the fourth in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. So far we’ve discussed Peripheral Vision, Eavesdropping and Iocane Tasting. Stay tuned for Detonator-Touching still to come…

There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. Sacred agents, more than anyone, need to be alert to the fishy business that happens everywhere behind the scenes.

We’ve all seen movie scenes when a character takes a phone call and says everything’s fine, trying to keep their voice level and casual while a kidnapper actually has a gun pointed at them. Will the friend on the other end of the line smell a rat?

Nothing smells rattier than the phrase “Fine, fine, everything’s fine”, don’t you think?

If we only engage with people on a surface level, we can quickly get the impression that most people are “fine, fine” and not interested in God. We then attribute that straight to their character – they should be interested in God, and, well, I guess it’s their loss if they’re not. But t hey seem to be going along OK, so, well, shrug.

Don’t we smell a rat?

God’s rescue mission is not so simple and straightforward. People are not so free as they pretend to be. Powerful hidden forces are in play – ‘principalities and powers’ as Paul puts it; ideologies and paradigms too are in play that bind and blind the people God is seeking to set free.

So when our surface-level witness (let’s not give that up) seems to come to nothing, let’s not shrug and move on. Instead, what if we moved in closer and took a good whiff, asking the Lord to show us what’s happening behind the scenes and how he’s wanting to rescue that hostage?

Eavesdropping

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the second in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. Last month we discussed Peripheral Vision. Stay tuned for Iocane-Tasting, Rat-Smelling and Detonator-Touching…

My teenage daughter has a black belt in eavesdropping. She won’t come down for dinner when we yell for her, but lower our voices in the kitchen for an adult-to-adult conversation, and suddenly she’s hovering just nearby.

Our brains have a way of filtering out so much information, of excluding lots of sounds and voices. But it’s amazing what you can hear if you tune in rather than tune out. God, in his wisdom, seems often to speak in such a way that only those who really want to listen can hear. Sacred agents certainly need to practice this. Are we leaning in to God to the detriment of other voices, or is it the other way around?

But we also can learn – must learn – how to really lean in and listen to the people to whom God has sent us. What are they saying? And what are they really saying? People usually speak with more than one voice. There’s their clear, audible voice, of course. But sometimes they say something else with their body language, or with their actions – but do we hear it? Are we tuned in?

This is especially important because in our culture it is very difficult to speak directly about spiritual matters. You can talk about the weather, about sport, about TV, about politics even, but not about God. This doesn’t mean that if your friend or workmate or family member never mentions or asks about God, that He is the furthest thing from their mind. So often people are thirsting and all-but crying out for a God they do not know – but the cry comes in different forms and in other words. Even when a person says they don’t believe in God, what God don’t they believe in? If it’s an aloof or capricious or impersonal ‘force out there’, well, we don’t believe in that either.

This doesn’t mean we should twist or reinterpret people’s words in any way that suits us. But perhaps we can ask better questions and listen more carefully to understand the hearts and underlying stories of those we’re sent to. You hear me?

Peripheral Vision

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the first post in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. Stay tuned for Eavesdropping, Iocane-Tasting, Rat-Smelling and Detonator-Touching…

Effective sacred agents need to have great vision, more than anyone else. Racing drivers? Meh. Heart surgeons? It’s right there under lights, the pumpy thing. Sports stars? Don Bradman had lousy eyesight. But sacred agents need constantly to know what’s going on around them. We need clarity of focus, and we especially need peripheral vision.

In the movies, an agent can be surrounded by eight thugs and yet win the fight because only one thug attacks at a time while the others usefully dance around looking aggressive. Real life isn’t like that. Agents have a lot going on all around them. And novices fall for the old look-over-here-while-I-attack-from-over-there trick.

We need peripheral vision to avoid such hits. We can get lured down the alley-way of debating what’s right and wrong, and suddenly realise we’ve been duped into Pharisaism. We can dive into serving the poor and only later realise we’ve unwittingly reinforced a cycle of dependence.

But we need peripheral vision in a positive way, too. Sometimes we wonder why God doesn’t seem to be doing much, but it’s just that he’s not moving where we’re looking (ahem TV & Facebook). God’s always up to something, but so often on the margins, among people we don’t even see and in ways we don’t even notice.

We need better peripheral vision to see and respond to opportunities and dangers all around us. Holy Spirit, heighten our senses! Prepare us for action!

Stop for a moment and think: Where are you looking? What are you focused on? What has taken up most of your attention this week? And then ask: Is there something else going on?

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