To Those Seeking to Walk by Faith in the Culture,
Today December 27th is the third day of Christmas, and the Festival of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist. He was the LORD's great servant through whom the LORD gave to us, His Church, the Gospel of John, John's three epistles, and the book of Revelation. Here is the icon I have shared this day on media:
I purchased this icon in Patmos years ago and it depicts what is described in Revelation chapter 1. Saint John (below) received a heavenly vision. He sees Christ who identifies Himself as the first and the last, the One who died and is alive forevermore. He holds the seven stars in His right hand and the keys to Hell and Hades in His left hand. He stands in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. He sends His messengers/"angels" to His churches. The sharp double-edged sword is His life-giving Word; His Law and His Gospel.
I did not get into these facts in my book Faith that Sees Through the Culture, but they are pertinent to the subject-matter of the fifth chapter on being priests (Christians are identified this way in both 1st Peter 2:9 and in Revelation 1:6).
The average Christian is self-conscious and intimidated about witnessing and evangelizing. "Evangelism" is one of those words among God's people. In the face of invitations to support the evangelistic outreach of the church, one might hear, "let's sign-up for ushering or coffee set-up instead!" These too are valuable, but you get the picture. The real difference, though, is that being a priest isn't a Sunday "sign-up" thing at all. It is rather a 24/7 reality of who and what we are in Christ. The Christian is a disciple, and the Christian-disciple is a priest.
A priest is someone who stands between God and other people. The priest prays on behalf of others to God. The priest speaks on behalf of God to other people. Who is called to do this? Only pastors? No! All of God's people are called to do this. It is what we do!
Why was it discussed in my book addressing the Christian's life in the culture? It was discussed because God's plan is to inculcate the culture with His witness. Why? Because God loves the culture even as it is filled with so many vices. Why? Because God loves the people who live in it! For these Jesus also shed His blood to cover the sins of the world and conquered death so that those who come to trust in Him would have eternal life.
This is a pertinent paragraph from my book on page 81, the "new life" being the life of those in Christ who recognize they are also God's priests:
When this new life is in effect, it transcends a culture increasingly marked by self-centeredness, and yet it is a life that refuses to remove itself from the culture so that the love of God might be known within it. We live in a culture where "the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12), but the God of love leads His people to go the other way. To live in love is to live counter-culturally. This is a life that stands out. This life, however, cannot be forced. It is simply the life that results from faith. It is a life of love where faith is active in the good works that God has prepared in advance for Christians to do (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus said, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). By being dedicated to serving others in their time of need, good works will shine and doors will open for speaking the Word of Christ.
Living in the culture is not something Christians try to avoid. It is rather something we relish, because with it, we have a clear mission from God: to share Jesus Christ. This becomes a priority for those in Christ. Additionally, to live in this great mission, we are protected from sin's influence upon us not to live for others, but to live for ourselves. That is, the Christian's identity as priest teaches the Christian about how to live in the world. We do not go out into the world to lust for the world, but we go out into the world to care for it and to give to it the good news of it's Redeemer!
We learn much about how to do this through St. Paul in Acts 17 where he is described as coming into the midst of the Athenians gathered at the Areopagus. He did not enter their company by telling them that they were wrong, but he entered into their hearing so that he could establish an audience. He looked for a way to have an "in" for his witness to find a hearing. He did so by stating truth and facts about them. He pointed out that they were very religious. This was true. Religion in the broard sense of the word is whatever defines a person's outlook and way of life; it describes what people live for and what they strive to serve. In saying this, St. Paul also made the most of their thoroughness to ensure all dieties were covered (as they were bonified polytheists) and saw his opening in the form of their altar "to the unknown god." As St. Paul began to offer identity for what was unknown (bearing witness to the true God), he quoted some of their poets who offered words complementary to the Christian doctrine of creation and with this, St. Paul was off and running. He had found some common ground, and with all gentleness and respect (1st Peter 3:15), he began to proclaim the Creator of heaven and earth who appointed "a man" to judge, the same man He raised from the dead. So, St. Paul finally got to the Gospel, and three reactions ensued: 1) some mocked him; 2) others were interested to hear more; and 3) some began to follow Christ.
We too are ready for all these possible responses, but we launch by seeking common ground, by striving to know where people are coming from (getting into their shoes so to speak, see 1st Corinthians 9:22), and then looking for any "in" that presents itself. And with the establishment of a real (and willing) hearing: we begin to share in a way that addresses the person in their unique circumstance.
In this fifth chapter I share insights gathered from a good friend of mine, Rev. Mark Jasa. He and I agree that evangelization and witnessing doesn't have to be based on long, intimidating programs that require massive amounts of memorization; it doesn't mean we have to go out soliciting door-to-door; nor does it mean we become obnoxious by blaring blow horns (or megaphones) and bearing big signs. No, instead, we remind ourselves that everyone is facing common concerns: guilt, shame, fear, and death; and that most people (at least) see value in compassion, in mercy, and in love. We simply come to people with real needs who just might be open to the LORD of life who meets those needs with no strings attached. And by the way, if they are open, it is because the LORD has made them to be. He does it all the time, but will we be God's willing priests?
We ought to be, because it is good to be a priest.
In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,