January 01, 2007 A NEW Year!

I want to start the new year focusing on how we are to be salt and light in this degenerating world. Here are some musings along those lines...

The Vine in the Real World - John 15:18-27

I have noticed a curiousity among many of my well-to-do friends over the years. Case in point: I have a friend who was raised as the sheltered son of an instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and now teaches there himself, taking over the legacy his father built. It was predetermined that Sam would attend Yale and Columbia U. , travel the world, and live a privileged life.

The curious thing with my friend and others like him that I have known are his tastes in entertainment and culture. He was drawn toward the Blues, to James Brown’s music,  and to visiting third world countries and even living in Bolivia for a time.He felt an sense that he wanted to reach beyond the trappings of his world and touch something deeper, something he considered more “real”.  He sought this in the gritty, the base, the authentic, and in the bohemian.

There is a story of Robert Kennedy when he was in the midst of campaigning for the 1968 presidential election that reflects this as well.  Kennedy was concerned not only to get votes, but in going to places in the country that were not his normal turf- going to places that were not going to generate a lot of votes in the poorest of poor areas.

He spent one hot day in New York City- 5 hours in Spanish Harlem- and at the end of the day he was covered with dirt and perspiration. His guide that day was former light heavyweight boxing champion Jose Torres. Torres looked at him and wondered- what is a rich man’s son doing here? What is driving him? He finally asked him why he was doing this. “I understand why you are running for president, but why here? Why this way? Why do you keep coming back to places like this? There are so many other more strategic places!” Kennedy was quiet for a time and finally he answered in a voice that was so low that Torres said he had to lean over to hear it. He said “Because I found out something I never knew- I found out that my world wasn’t the real world. And that’s the world I need to touch.”
In our church, it is likely that we  are surrounded by like minded people whose values we share, and whose company we enjoy. It is possible here to forget about a real world.  The world is full of sinful, hurting, difficult, needy and often hostile people. Some of them are the nicest people we can imagine and some of them are the most difficult people we will ever encounter. The reality is, that is where we are called. Not to this world, but to the REAL world- out there. So let’s get real!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “ The only place to follow Christ is in the world”. We must operate in a world where our presence is sometimes resented, where our values are often rejected- but where our witness for Christ is desperately and eternally needed.

The upper room was a very comfortable place for the disciples to be. The traitor had left them. They were alone with Jesus and they were experiencing an intimacy with Him.  But quite deliberately the Lord Jesus not only takes them out of the room physically, but he also takes them out of the room emotionally. Having talked about their need for Him and having talked about their needing to love one another, committed to the body of Christ, He begins to speak very specifically about a hostile world where they are called to bear witness- for Christians are not called to live in an Upper Room, or remain alone in the garden with Jesus. We are not called to live out our lives in a Christian congregation- we are called to be in a place like THIS so we can bear witness in a world like THAT.
Let’s look at the end of John 15. We have talked in my earlier expositions of this chapter about Jesus‘s attempt to brand on his men three very critical commitments to relationship: A relationship to Him, a relationship to the body, and a relationship to the world. Those three relationships do not compete. They compliment each other.

If we are rightly related to Jesus and to His body, we will be deeply committed to be rightly related to a needy world. We will share Christ’s heart of compassion. (Compassion = Splagcnizomai- to be moved as to one's bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion , for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity).

Beginning in John 15 verse 18 the Lord makes a contrast with the previous passage. The word “love” has been the important word in verses 12- 17. Now it’s going to be the word “hate”. “One another” has been the context of verses 12- 17 - and now it’s going to be “the world”. 
15:18   "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.
15:19   "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
15:20   "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
15:21   "But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.
15:22   "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
15:23   "He who hates Me hates My Father also.
15:24   "If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.
15:25   "But they have done this in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'
15:26   "When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me,
15:27   and you will bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

It is easy to mistake the treasure we hold in our hands when we read the Bible.  Centuries ago William Tyndale came to love God’s Word and  as he read it;  he was captivated by a vision , as he put it,  “that every ploughboy in England could read the Bible in his own language.” That was something that was totally anathema to the official leaders of the religion of that day. He knew it was going to be costly, but he began to do it. When it was found out what he was attempting to do he was driven underground. He came to be known as “God’s Outlaw”. He was run out of England. He was then pursued on the continent. He was eventually betrayed and imprisoned and finally burned at the stake with the famous final words “Lord,  open the King of England’s eyes!”

When he was asked in the midst of that persecution how he was dealing with it, he simply replied,  “I never expected anything else.” He listened carefully to the kind of words the Lord spoke in John 15 and will continue to speak in chapter 16.  This passage is full of realism. The Lord was fully aware that disillusionment is the child of illusion. If you have false views about something, when you encounter reality  you become disillusioned. So the Lord did not paint a glossy picture of what it was going to be like to live as His follower in the world.  He is intensely realistic about the cost and challenge of living for Him. But in the spirit of being real, let us admit: Much of what is here is theory. We really do not know how we will do when persecuted UNTIL we are persecuted.
We have lived in what is - well I don’t quite want to call it a “fool’s paradise”- but our culture has in the past supported us, by and large, in our endeavor to live by Christ’s standards and values.  The seatide is changing and the sands are running out on that state of being.  We have entered into a different world.  If the Lord be not come in the next century, we will have to contend with this passage in a fresh new light.  What does it mean to be a Christian in the world today? The Lord gives us insight in this passage.

First of all the Lord is going to say in verses 18-25 that the reaction of the world will be hostility. Then he will speak of the responsibility of the believer in the light of this reality: to be a witness. This is a very simple passage, yet it is profound in the implications for disciples.

Let’s spend a little time thinking about the source of the hostility- the Lord uses the term “world”- we run into it right in the third word of verse 18. The term “world” (kosmos) is used in a variety of ways- it is used of the physical world as God created it, the world as all of humanity (“God so loved the world” ) but  most often in John’s gospel it is used of the concept of man living, organized and deliberately, but leaving the living God out of the picture, having a system of beliefs and ideas that lives without Jesus Christ at the heart and center of it. So the “world” is that way in which men organize their life and this ultimately all falls under the influence of Satan.

The world lies in the evil one- this is why Satan was able to offer Christ the control of the kingdoms of the world in the wilderness temptation. It takes different forms- it can be very religious.  Religious people may be intensely of the world- the next chapter in John points this out- the Bible pulls no punches about this. They may be very concerned about religious practice and ideas but they have no room for the reality of Jesus Christ! Or it  may be political, or secular. The world system takes on all different forms but it is organized to put together a lie- that life is possible independent of God.  So this is the basic underlying idea of the word “world”.

The Bible also tells us that the “World” is varied. The fashion, the course of this age keeps moving in different directions. The Western world for example is different from the world in the East.  It has a different way in which the organized independence from God represents itself. So we notice differences in culture- we notice different styles and values. We are undergoing dramatic changes in our country as we face the issues of secularization driven by consumerism. Godly values are squeezed out of the legitimate world forum. They are pushed more and more to the periphery. We have  had scientism, an explanation of life divorced from the participation of God, but that is falling out of disfavor as science has failed to produce real answers for our needs.  The socialist societies were seen as pioneering the way into the new world and have been seen to be totally bankrupt. Now into our world has been injected a new understanding of religiosity. The New age movement has evolved into a bland 90’s spirituality and “tolerance”. The concept of “religious” values is further distorted in the rise of fundamentalism in different religions around the world. Magical apologetics and Bible Codes abound in the fringes of orthodox Christianity as the world is wooed and in turn seduces the church.
What is becoming clear is that our society is becoming increasingly adversarial toward the things of Christ. Do you ever think about the fact that as we send missionaries out- that there are a higher percentage of Christians in Korea than in Canada? There is a higher percentage of professing Christians in Angola than in America. We have thought of ourselves as the mission sending country- perhaps rightly so- for God has blessed us richly. But America, the mission sender,  has become the mission field. Increasingly we need a view of the world that understands the postmodern influence on our culture. We need to change the way we view the culture around us. The world is no friend to true  faith.
If you were to choose the second neediest place to get the gospel, outside of Islamic countries it is undoubtedly Europe.  Tt is a post- Christian society, and we are moving in that same direction. As the culture moves away from us, we as men and women in the culture who know that the gospel is the only way men can be saved need to rededicate ourselves to being missionaries in our own culture, winning people for the cause of Christ. The more we get aroused to that, the more the reality of this passage will come into focus. We will experience the tactics of hostility.  In verses 18- 20 there are three basic tactics the world will use.
The first is : it will exclude- notice verse 19a.
"If you were of the world, the world would love its own;
The world embraces those who are committed to live by its values: the world lives by assimilation and conformity. It puts a smothering embrace  and affirms those in the media culture within certain frameworks. It gives material rewards to those, who, whatever their background are willing to go with the system. Those who are committed to live for Jesus Christ, who will say “no” to the values of the system and its master know what it is to feel excluded.
Alexander McClaren wrote about this conflict when he said “What we believe to be precious, the world regards as of no account. What we believe to be fundamental truth, it passes by as of no importance. Much which we feel to be wrong, it regards as good.  Our tools are its tinsel and its jewels are our trash.”
Have you ever met a rich, powerful, influential Christian? I have. But they would be the first to bear witness that it is a great miracle from God that they exist. I used to think that all people in this position must have, by necessity, compromised their faith. With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. The norm is that  the world will destroy anyone who desires to lift up Christ in their power alleys.
So it excludes... continued next week...


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From the personal weblog of Anthony Foster @http://anthonyfoster.com/blog/