CULTURE OR CHRIST?
"Peter began to say to Him, 'Behold, we have left all and followed You.' Jesus said, 'Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for My sake and for the Gospel's sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now at this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, with persecutions, and in the coming age, eternal life'"
Mark 10:28 - 30.
In this series of "or Christ" articles I am making an attempt at exposing some of the modern day hindrances that we face in fulfilling the true mission of God, which is God's eternal purpose (Eph. 1 & 3). As I have said elsewhere, this eternal purpose is centered in Jesus Christ himself. It is that all things would be summed up (or headed up) in Christ (Eph. 1:9 - 12). It is that he would have the preeminence (first place) in all things (Col. 1:18). And that he would fill all things with himself (Eph. 4:10).
This eternal purpose is fulfilled by God having a Body, a Bride, and a House (Eph. 1:22, 23). But it is the house that we will take a look at in this article.
The History of the House
God has always desired to have a place in which to dwell. Starting with Genesis in the Garden of Eden and ending with the book of Revelation and the New Jerusalem, it is easy to see God's original intention to have a dwelling place. It is the sweeping story of the whole bible.
But along with that story has been the history of the hindrances to God getting his house. And one of the most powerful hindrances has been this matter of the culture of man. In fact, our culture, by and large, has had a more powerful influence over us than the gospel of Jesus Christ! That's not something to be proud of, but it is a fact we must deal with. In order to do so, we need to understand the aspects of our culture that stand in the way of God having his dwelling place - a spiritual temple made of living stones (I Pet. 2:4, 5).
I believe that the best story in the scriptures to illustrate this "culture block" is found in the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish nation. This story is found in the books of Ezra, Esther, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. In case you aren't familiar with the story, I will give you a brief background.
The Babylonian empire began way back in Genesis chapter eleven with the tower of Babel. There was a city built around the tower that existed in the country referred to as Shinar and later called the land of the Chaldeans. This is the city of man made religion. When Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon he attached Jerusalem, tore down the temple, and took captive the Jews. Their captivity lasted 70 years in Babylon.
The Jews were marched 700 miles in the nude to Babylon. The Babylonians gave them new names and many of the children starved to death. Their women were raped and they all became slaves (Lam. 5:12 - 21).
Comfortable in Babylon
Eventually, the Jews were given much freedom by their captors. They built their own houses, some started business, and many prospered. There was even considerable religious freedom. Since they no longer had the temple (the house of God), they created their own religious system called the synagogue.
The problem was that this synagogue system was only an artificial substitute for the true worship in the temple in Jerusalem. That was the only place God ordained the sacrifices.
In 538 BC, King Cyrus decreed that the Jews were not free to go back to Jerusalem and the Canaan land. But only 2% would go back! They were not willing to make the long trek (700 miles) back. They had become comfortable in Babylon. They had become Babylonians! And they were not willing to pay the price of returning to Jerusalem to rebuild God's temple and God's city.
The Three Pillars of Our Culture
Brothers and sisters, we have become comfortable in Babylon. God is calling his people everywhere to leave Babylon behind and to come and rebuild his true temple, the church. But many of us are stuck in the world's system and the religious system. We have become too comfortable and are afraid to leave it all behind. There are three strongholds that hold together our western culture. They are as follows:
Our isolated individualistic lifestyles are an outward expression of our individualistic minds. We only think about life individualistically. It's only about me and my world. It's all about my career, my family, my hobbies, my vacation, my investments, etc. We even call a device to listen to my music an I-pod! It's very difficult for us to think any other way. That's why it is such a miracle when a person begins the shift from thinking as me to thinking as we. Thinking corporately is not something that comes naturally to us. It requires a renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:1 - 5; Eph. 4:22 - 25; Col. 3:10, 11). But yet, it is absolutely necessary for a group of believers who want to "rebuild" the true house of God in their city. If we are going to live as the community of God, we must begin by thinking corporately. *
*See the author's new book: "The Community Life of God"
Jesus had a lot to say about money and the pursuit of money and how it has a foothold on our lives (Matt. 6:24; Matt. 13:22; Mark 10:23; Matt. 21:12; Mark 6:8; Matt. 13:44; Matt. 6:32). Of course, it's not money in itself, but rather the pursuit and love of money and everything that goes along with it. The problem is the hold that our consumeristic, materialistic society now has over us.
It's absolutely incredible how much time and effort people will spend on the development of their careers. I live in a college town. About 50,000 young people come here every year to spend somewhere between 4 - 8 years and lots of their parents' money to obtain a "marketable" career. Then there are all the night classes and vocational colleges and classes on the internet. Then, once we begin our careers, there are all of the late night hours to attempt to "climb" the corporate ladder.
But do we ever have enough stuff? Consumerism and materialism have taken over our lives and then to top it all of, we become claves to debt. We esteem highly those who have the top level credit scores and thieves get more prison time than rapists! But our Lord said that you cannot serve two masters.
Our Lord also had many things to say about the pull of family upon our lives (Matt. 10:35 - 37; Matt. 12:47 - 49; Matt. 19:5; Matt. 19:29; Luke 2:48, 49; Luke 12:53; Luke 14:26; John 19:26). I would say that in the western world Christians either neglect their families (because they are too busy pursuing mammon), or they idolize their families to the point of sacrificing the house (family) of God. When we place our family on a pedestal, then the pursuit of money is important to support the family. And this vicious cycle goes on and one.
Let's face it folks, we have become Babylonians! We have become too comfortable and too busy with our own individual lives to be willing to make the long trek back to Jerusalem and join the rebuilding project. It is much too costly. Who would do such a thing?
Another Call to Rebuild
In the first century there was another call to rebuild. But this time it was to be the fulfillment of all of the shadows and types in the Old Testament. It was a call to build the true spiritual temple of the ecclesia. And I don't think that it was a coincidence that it all happened in the same city of Jerusalem
Some had come from Galilee, and some had come from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Arabia, and many other places. Three thousand souls came to Christ that day of Pentecost and became part of this new thing on the earth called the church. But here is the most amazing thing to me. They all decided to leave everything to follow Him! What about their families, and their homes, and their jobs back home? They decided to stay in Jerusalem to build the true house of God.
I get emails and phone calls from believers all the time telling me that they want organic church life so badly, but there is no one else near them who has this same desire. I ask them if they have ever considered moving to another location. Then they tell me that it's impossible. Christians will move because of a new job or to be closer to family, but to move for the house of God? Who would do that? Now don't get me wrong, I understand that sometimes it is "impossible" to move because of circumstances. But that's not my point. What God is after is our hearts. Are we willing to leave all to follow Him? Is His house that important to us?
When He said to seek first His kingdom (Matt 6:33), he really meant it! If we will allow Him to have the first place in everything (Col. 1:18), then we will want Him to have His house, His body, and His bride. And whatever perceived cost we may have to pay will pale in comparison to His glorious church!