It’s been beautiful at our house this summer. Hot days, warm nights and just enough rain. For a backyard gardener like me, that means ripe garden tomatoes, crisp bell peppers, hot jalapenos and habaneros, and fresh onions are stacked on the counter in our kitchen.
That can only mean one thing… Salsa time!
So recently, I pulled out my largest stock pot, filled my dishwasher with quart Mason jars and settled in for the lengthy process of making and canning my own blend of spicy hot salsa. I spent most of a Saturday morning peeling tomatoes, slicing onions and seeding peppers. Then, after chopping them up in the food processor, they were dumped together to mingle their flavors in a simmering pot.
As I stood at my stove slowly stirring my bold southwestern stew of wonderfulness, it occurred to me that this pot of mixed vegetables was in many ways a metaphor for what the church in America has become.
Under the heat of social and media criticism, it so often seems that the church, courting the world’s approval, has willfully chosen to mute its message. But in so doing, it unknowingly becomes so blended with the society around it that it loses its individuality and distinctiveness, and ultimately, sadly, much of its impact. As in my batch of salsa, once the heat was turned up, it became hard to tell where the tomato flavor stopped and the onion started!
In His prayer in John 15, Jesus alerted us that the world would oppose His followers…
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.… They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. (vs 18-21)
The Greek word Jesus used to describe the church he would establish is ekklesia, (Matt.16:18) which means “the ‘called-out’ ones.” So, by definition, the church is a group of people who are called out of their surroundings by God and through their response of faith in Christ’s work on the cross, now belong to Him. They are people set apart by Him and for Him.
But the need to retain a distinctive flavor doesn’t mean that we should pull back from the world and isolate ourselves from our culture.
Scripture doesn’t record that Jesus spent much time engaging the religious community during His time on Earth. Instead He actively sought out and fully connected with people who were far outside the religious system of the day. And when the Pharisees questioned Christ about the amount of time He spent with these “people on the fringes,” the lepers, prostitutes, beggars and thieves, He reminded them (and us) that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Matt 9:12)
So, if we’re to follow His example, we, as His church, must make a conscious and deliberate effort to be present with and get to know those who don’t know God! That is, people who are often engaged in ungodly lifestyles and activities. From a purely logical standpoint, how can we reach those who are sick… how can we help the mentally, spiritually, or emotionally ill who are in need of the Great Physician if we don’t (or won’t) go where they are?
But following Christ into that kind of involvement with unbelievers is vastly different from becoming part of the world. Jesus, and later Paul and James, warned us against is the danger of personally and/or corporately adopting and accepting the thoughts, ideas, desires and goals of those who don’t know God. When we make those catastrophic alterations in our belief systems, we blend ourselves with the world and lose our uniqueness! We dull our ability to impact our society with the only truth that can truly set people free.
So, since the church is made up of individuals, I encourage you to be bold! Step outside of the safe confines of the church building and go “flavor” your world, always remembering that your goal is to win their hearts, not their approval.