Not Wrong, Just Different
AUGUST 5, 2020
Years ago some friends and I traveled around the world, visiting missionaries.
A dear woman who loved world missions told me that while my words about world missions were right, I had no passion. “The only way you can get that passion” she said, “is to go there, see it, and participate.” So she made it happen. There were three of us, including the late Sam Rowan–then one of the wisest cross-cultural mission scholars in the country.
That trip changed my life in a lot of ways. Up to that point, I had never been outside of the United States. On this trip we visited dozens of countries and met a pile of great people all over the world doing amazing work for the Kingdom. Not only that, this boy from the mountains of North Carolina saw things he had never seen before, ate food he didn’t think we should eat, listened to music dissonant to his ears, worshiped in ways that offended his “decently and in order” Presbyterian proclivities, and winced at a lot of things he didn’t understand.
During that trip I spoke at a Christian college chapel in the Philippines on Acts 5 where an angel sprung the disciples from prison. As they ran away, the angel called the disciples and told them to go back and do what they had just gotten arrested for in the first place. I demonstrated the “come here” gesture the angel made and the students at the college started laughing. Later, once a professor explained it to me, I found out why. The professor pointed out, with a fair degree of shock and condemnation, that the gesture I used was an obscene gesture in Philippine culture.
At any rate, Sam helped me deal with my culture shock by often saying to me, “Steve, not wrong, just different. Remember that and you’ll be okay.”
“Not wrong, just different” doesn’t always apply to Christians. Of course, Christians are supposed to be different. Sometimes, though, that “different” morphs into ”weird,” and most of the time there is a difference between different and weird.
“Don’t drink, smoke, or chew…or hang out with those who do!” That bit of doggerel reflects the places we sometimes go and how we define ourselves. A number of years ago I had a friend involved in World Reformed Fellowship (an ecumenical organization for Evangelical and Reformed churches). He would often laugh about how the Germans doubted the salvation of the Americans who smoked, and the Americans doubted the salvation of the Germans who drank beer. Things have changed since then, but that attitude is still extant when Christians are angry, shocked, and offended (we need a Sunday school class called “The Angry, Shocked, and Offended”) by the behavior and opinions of other Christians in a number of areas (e.g. tattoos, length of hair, taste in music and dress, political and social views, minor views of doctrine etc.)
It never hurts for Christians to check out what Jesus says about being different.
For instance, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
I don’t have the foggiest idea how we do that or even what it means. Love isn’t just something we decide to do and then do it. It’s not like turning a faucet on and off at will. Love can’t mean that we agree on everything, or that I like your crazy music and your bad taste in dress. Nor can love mean that you (cretin that you are) must agree with my thoughtful and intelligent views, listen to my favorite and wonderful music, or decide to dress in the obviously dapper way I do. I suspect the key to love may have to do with being present and listening. Matthew Porter gave me a profound quote from Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard by David W. Augsburger, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
I recently discovered someone who you ought to be familiar with, Dr. Voddie Baucham. (Google his name and you’ll thank me for having told you about him.) He is an African American scholar and the chancellor of a theological seminary in Africa. In the chaos of the racial divisions, hatred, anger, and charges and counter charges, Dr. Baucham is a refreshing, thoughtful, and anointed voice for the church.
Yesterday I was listening to a sermon/lecture he gave, “Ethnic Gnosticism.” Dr. Baucham said that, while he understood why Christians want to be “color blind,” it isn’t a good thing and shouldn’t happen among Christians. Dr. Baucham said that he was proud of his black heritage, and that Christians should share and rejoice in the heritage (both good and bad) of other Christians. That applies to a whole lot of areas. And then he talked about forgiveness not being an option for the Christian.
That, I suspect, is a part of “loving one another” so that the world can recognize the difference. As I said, I’m not sure what love is, but I know it when I see it. It has to do with respecting, valuing, caring, and even partying with other Christians. And I’m sure that that kind of love is a gift from Jesus and you can only get it from hanging out with him. He values, cares, and respects us…and doesn’t think he can have a party unless we’re there.
There you go, Brown, compromising. I’ve never been sure you’re saved.
Get in line; but, before you do, let me tell you another way Christians are to be different. It has to do with truth that can’t be changed, compromised, or hidden. Jesus had something to say about that as well. Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
Racism, rioting, killing, condemnation, destruction, self-righteousness, news geared to fit one’s particular narrative, righteous anger (always righteous when it comes from “my side”), dismissing or demeaning of others because of their skin color (white or black)–and it goes on and on–are wrong, evil, and anti-Christian. How do I know that? God revealed it to you and me. We had a discussion the other day on our talk show about the issue of “Black Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter,” and “Blue Lives Matter.” George Bingham, Key Life’s president, said something profound, “How about we open with ‘You matter!’?” Where did he get that? Yeah, you guessed it, the Bible. The Bible has a lot to say about what is right and wrong, what is true and not true, and the difference between the Christian worldview and that of those who aren’t Christians. That truth is a precious gift.
There is another way Christians are to be different and, I might add, dangerous. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). And “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). That would be us, and the difference by which we define ourselves–weak, needy, sick, and sinful. Believe it or not, there is great power in the acknowledgement of that difference. We have nothing to lose, nothing to defend, nothing to protect, and nothing to prove. We are simply servants of the King who commissioned us to live, speak, and proclaim truth.
As you know, I’m a very opinionated conservative–theologically, politically, and socially. As I’ve been convicted about some of what I’m writing to you here, I got kind of worried that I might have to change my often-stated views. I asked Jesus who said, “Of course not! Those views are right!” Okay, Jesus didn’t say that last part about my being right…but, of course, I am…maybe. But he really didn’t ask me to change. Jesus called me (and you) to go into the world and as we are going (the literal meaning of “Go into all the world”) about our daily live–working, playing, struggling, and connecting–we are to make disciples where we can. I can do that as long as I don’t duck.
One of the tragic things about our time is that we have, as it were, lost the anchor. Evil is the way we get our way (politically, financially, sexually, and socially) and a whole lot of people simply don’t have any idea what evil really is. There is no standard by which we relate to others because that standard has been lost. Nobody seems to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate, and compassion and guilt. That’s not dissimilar to what the writer of Judges said about Israel, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).
Doesn’t that make you sad? It makes Jesus sad, too.
“When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). And then Jesus looked out over the city and wept (Luke 19:41). Jesus said on that occasion, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).
Jesus still feels the same.
We’re called to be different and a part of that means telling everybody we know who will listen.
He asked me to remind you.