Does the Culture ‘Need Jesus?’
A Personal Story
Turn on any Christian television program, or visit many churches today, and I’ll bet it’s not long before the speaker/pastor begins talking about the dangers of our modern-day culture, and how much that culture needs Jesus. Yes, the culture needs Jesus, but we often equate the culture’s moral condition with the need.
To that, let’s consider something. Jesus lived in the most violent, sexually debase, pagan, and deviant culture in Western history.
And he didn’t address it once.
Wait a minute, what? Surely, he must have had something to say about the specific moral conditions of the culture around Him?
But we have Matthew 5, remember? “Do not look at a woman lustfully?”
Who was He addressing?
The gathered crowd.
It wasn’t like those gathered had smartphones and could broadcast in real-time on Youtube to the rest of the world. He was addressing those that were willing to listen. They wanted to hear what He had to say. They had discovered the “joy” of Christ, and they wanted Him to give “an account of the hope inside” of Him.
He didn’t tell the people to decry the sexual debasement of the Romans, he didn’t go after the Roman’s false gods. He didn’t attack their sexual preferences, which were rather broad. He focused his consternation on the religious leaders. He hung out with the tax collectors and prostitutes, and he rebuked those that had spent decades studying His writings — they just weren’t living it or revealing its wondrous, transformative power.
Christ’s wrath rested on those that should have known. Even more importantly, it rested on those that were supposed to teach the masses that information. Remember Jesus’ comment about the “blind leading the blind?” He didn’t attack the blind. He attacked the ones called to illuminate the sightless. God calls us, His new covenant believers, to be priests and kings. It’s not our job to condemn. It’s our job to illuminate. It’s our job to bandage. It’s our job to love. It’s our job to model something better.
MAYBE JESUS WAS KINDER?
What about, as men like Richard Dawkins might consider, the “harsh and more dogmatic” God of the Old Testament? Surely He was more concerned with those sinful issues we often judge others by today.
We merely need to look at the focus of God’s commands and declarations to see where His partiality lies. The term “lust” is referenced less than ten times in the Old Testament. The word “fornication” is spoken of twice. Adultery is more common, with a total of under 25 references. For adultery, this is somewhat understandable, as we have learned earlier about the broad consequential reach of adultery.
But He references the poor 98 times in the Old Testament. Oh, I don’t mean metaphorically, like the “poor in spirit.” But 98 times specifically dealing with the treatment of the poor. He references caring for the widow 48 times. And he references the need for social/relational justice 39 times.
This is not to downplay the more moral issues, but it is to analyze where the percentage of the church’s focus lies today. Are we concerned with what God cares about? What He seems to focus on more heavily? Or, do we have our pet moral issues? Issues that we are either personally repulsed by, or issues that we secretly wish we could engage in? When we speak the truth in anger, and not in love, we usually have ulterior motivating factors. We have seen this over and over again with discredited televangelists and religious leaders, having been caught in the very acts they vehemently campaigned against.
WHO WERE THEY SPEAKING ABOUT?
For that matter, let’s consider all the commands and statements from God that we hammer at the culture. Did you realize that it is all referencing us, as believers? The Old Testament was written to or about God’s chosen tribe, the Israelites. This was their manifesto. Now, the intention was to share it with the entire world, but only after the outcome of that lifestyle produced something more magnanimous, healthy, and vital than the ways of the other nations.
Or what about the New Testament? Who were all those letters written to? The church! The writers of the epistles weren’t attacking the culture, they were writing about themselves and speaking to those that had heard the good news and accepted it. Notice how Paul addresses this in his letter to the Corinthians:
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case, you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.”
I Corinthians 5: 9–11 NIV
Look at what Paul is saying! He’s saying hang out with the sexually immoral, associate with the greedy and the swindlers. Not to engage in their activities, but to show them, through the outcome of your born-again lifestyle, a better way of living. Kick it with the world, but avoid at all cost those that claim to be believers yet act against that reality.
The point here is not amalgamation, but focused compassion and personal accountability. We need to see that we must point the spotlight inward, not outward onto a world that has failed to see much evidence of our love, compassion, and transformed lifestyle.
Let me share a personal story that reflects this difference.
For such was the case when the mammoth porn palace, Hustler Hollywood, planted a location in the heart of downtown Nashville. Many in the churches of the greater Nashville area were up in arms at the establishment of the new location. It was, to some, a moral hazard, a greater example of the “darkness” that surrounds a culture that needs Jesus.
A pastor friend of mine felt like he got a different download from God on a different response his church should take. In prayer one day, he felt like God said, “I want you to address this new establishment. But I don’t want you to attack the patrons or employees of the store.”
Then he felt like God said something very interesting. He felt like God asked him, “what street name is Hustler Hollywood located on?” “Church Street,” my friend replied. It’s a major street in downtown Nashville that runs through the heart of the city. “Exactly,” he felt like God said. “I want you to demonstrate not against the location, but based on the fact that I want pornography out of my church.”
Around that time, this pastor’s right-hand man felt like he had a vision of a group of people gathered in repentant prayer with blue bandanas around their eyes with the word “Pure” printed on the front. My pastor friend felt like it was connected, so for 21 days a large group of his members and staff gathered around the sides of the Hustler Hollywood building and for four hours a day stood in silent prayer.
No signs of hate. No bullhorns.
You can imagine it caused quite a stir, both inside the store and throughout the surrounding community. And it also angered a lot of HH patrons. Others, in the past, had judged them for their actions. They had been shamed previously, probably even told, “you are in sin, you need Jesus.” It wouldn’t take long before someone would come up to one of us leaders, get in our faces, and say something like, “how dare you f-k’n judge us, you a-hole hypocrites.”
They were looking for a fight, and it was understandable.
What they received in response was anything from what they expected. “I completely understand what you are saying,” I would often begin. “But first of all, how could I judge you, because back a few years ago I was you.” Too often, we forget that we engaged in the same sins as the world, either after being saved or, if we are honest, sometimes after our salvation.
“We are not here to judge you or to even attack others for looking at porn,” I continued. “We are here because Hustler Hollywood is on Church Street, and God wants pornography out of His church. To be completely honest, if the church was who she was supposed to be, you wouldn’t need this stuff. You are here because in many ways we failed to show you anything greater.”
As I continued to speak, I watched anger turn into curiosity. Then curiosity would turn into connection. “Are you serious?” was the common response. “Wow, I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. That’s cool, bro.” And then the majority of the people would walk off. But before they left, they would do one other thing. EVERY single person that came up to me, those originally ready to fight, would end the conversation by shaking my hand.
A handshake. A connection. The start of a relationship. The recognition of a person’s value and worth. They went from fist-to-cuffs to gracious camaraderie when we turned the spotlight INWARD.
Now, some people continued into the shop. Others got in their cars and just drove off. Others asked for prayer. It was powerful. It was winsome. It was empathetic evangelism. It was showing people the transformative power of Jesus in our lives, not just telling them they needed Him because of their moral failures.
Does the world need Jesus, or do we need to look more like Christ?
The answer is yes.
“I doubt I’m gonna win you back
When you got eyes like that
It won’t let me in
Always looking out”
Lyrics: Jack Johnson, If I Had Eyes