Then I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see Him or know Him. But you know Him, because He resides with you and will be in you. I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you. After a little while the world will not see Me any longer, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live too.
color christmas lights as very nice holiday background
So… I have the dubious privilege of living on the same street as the twenty-first century Griswolds. Before Thanksgiving, decorations begin to go up, and there appears to be little rhyme or reason beyond more. Red and green lights, blue and green, red and white, flashing, running, and continuous-burning lights, Santa Claus, reindeer, blow-up penguins and snowmen, boxes and wreaths, directions to the North Pole, and even lighted grass, plus lights on the house, the trees, along the fence… Words are not sufficient.
In contrast, for the first time in my adult life, I did not decorate for Christmas – inside or out. I was going out of town for Christmas, which in and of itself is not a reason not to decorate. However, last year brought the household addition of the canine chew-monster. Visions of toppled trees, shattered glass, and stripped electrical cords danced in my head, ergo, no Christmas decorations. Almost… I did stake my large, red J O Y letters – with a white star on top of the O and Mary holding the Baby inside the O – in the front yard, the sole, decorative acknowledgment of the season.
The Griswolds down the street earned some sort of award for their decorations – “most visible from the Space Station” or some such. However, at my house at the end of the street, a strong front that blew through broke the brackets on the letter Y in my front yard. So, while my neighbors were lighting/blinding southeastern Texas in celebration of Christmas, my token decoration was: J O. That’s it. J O. Before I left for Christmas, I put my J, O, and fallen Y back in my garage to revisit another day. My neighbor’s J O Y – blue, green, and red, without reference to Christ at all – held steady through New Year’s Day. It was not Christianity’s finest hour…
The decoration fiasco is a reflection of a much larger picture over which I puzzle regularly – the picture of the relationship between our culture and Christianity. Once upon a time, they were perhaps too closely wed, but now our culture could hardly be further from Christianity. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I look at the news (rather, I read it online) and wonder if we have collectively lost our minds. I read articles and Op-Eds or watch TV and movies, and I feel a bit like an alien. Many people in our society inhabit a world I cannot imagine, much less understand. And the question in my mind is always this: if He walked in our world today, how would Jesus reach the people? What does He want from us now? I believe our God endlessly pursues all human beings, and if that is the case, then in His infinite wisdom and complete knowledge of the human creature, how would He draw people to Himself?
The decorating scenario speaks to me precisely because I did a minimal and eventually broken testimony to Christmas, while my neighbor – without reference to Jesus Christ at all – overwhelmed the entire subdivision with what I can only describe as a garish and disconnected display of tasteless profusion, and won an award for it… I can’t seem to get past that part. It’s one thing to have bad taste, but it’s an altogether different thing to receive accolades for your bad taste. Although… It is hard to argue that his yard was as poorly done as my J O.
Every time I drove by his house, I wondered how the man and his family would respond to Jesus Christ if I were to offer Him. That’s rather a key point, you see. I would have to offer Christ, and therein lies my question. How on earth do we as Christians offer divine life and salvation to a blindingly superficial and gluttonously satiated world? Truly, I have no idea. What I do know is that our God loves my neighbors – all of my neighbors – and Jesus Christ died on their behalf as surely as He died on my behalf. Such being the case, how can I introduce Jesus to them in such a way that He becomes desirable to them?
In the preface to his book, How (Not) to be Secular, James K.A. Smith writes the following:
“(Y)our “secular” neighbors aren’t looking for “answers”… Instead of nagging questions about God or the afterlife, your neighbors are oriented by all sorts of longings and “projects” and quests for significance. There doesn’t seem to be anything “missing” from their lives – so you can’t just come proclaiming the good news of a Jesus who fills their “God-shaped hole.” They don’t have any sense that the “secular” lives they’ve constructed are missing a second floor.”
He is fundamentally correct. Our neighbors want more, just as my neighbor adds more each year, but they are not looking to Christianity or any other faith for the more they want. In 2016, over $16 billion was spent on cosmetic surgery meaning youth and/or beauty are a prominent “more” in our culture. In the last four years, self-storage construction has grown by an astonishing 500%, and Americans spent a whopping $38 billion last year alone just to store stuff. People definitely want more, but they don’t think Christianity offers it.
Jesus tells His disciples that they, as His followers, would have three things that the world would not have: 1) the Spirit of Truth, 2) the vision of God, and 3) life – everlasting and eternal as Jesus has. Think a minute about the enormity of what Jesus is promising: the Holy Spirit and Truth the world cannot accept will reside in us. Though the world cannot see God, we can see God, and finally, we will be given the same life is Jesus’ own life as the Son of God. Jesus, the Man, will live on, and so will we.
Here’s my question for us: how do we accept and live all that Jesus promised in a way that reaches the world? Or, we could just settle for our neighborhood. How do the Spirit of Truth, the vision of God, and the life of Christ exist in us in such a way that calls out and ministers to our neighbors? I would suggest to you that the first thing we all must consider is whether we have received all our Father wants to give. We certainly cannot offer something we do not have. If it’s not already here, the time is rapidly coming when we will have to choose between our culture and Jesus Christ. We cannot aspire to the things of God if we are invested in the things of the world, for the world can’t see or accept the life God gives.
This is the first of three meditations on this topic – Christian life in today’s society. Here, I am posing the question, setting up the challenge for us. I do not have the answers, but I think about this all the time. How does Jesus reach our world today? Before we can answer that question, the prior question presents itself: who do we have to be to offer Jesus Christ? Are we that person?
Pray about these questions with me. God answers prayers, especially prayers that reveal Him to the searching soul.
In Christ –