I was reminded of an important truth the other day at a conference comprised of pastors, political leaders and Christians in south-central Kentucky: Jesus radically transform lives.
At Commonwealth Policy Center's (CPC) Christianity and Culture conference, one speaker talked of his struggle with LGBT identity. Another, shared her story about her pro-abortion past that ended the lives of two of her children. One segment was on a biblical view of racial reconciliation. All hot topics. All in need of better dialogue and engagement initiated by the church.
A new vision was cast by one speaker for how the church can effectively engage culture. Instead of seeing culture as an enemy to be opposed, it should be viewed as a neighbor to be loved. This doesn't mean conforming to worldly standards or compromising biblical truths. Rather, it means taking biblical truths to a world and people in desperate need of love and compassion.
Those cultural hot-button issues weren't just theoretical, political sparring trials. They settled into real lives and resulted in real trauma. The trauma wasn't healed through an argument or an election. It was healed by a real person named Jesus, who suffered real trauma Himself. He wasn't only gracious and kind by taking on our sins and our bad choices, but He modeled for us how we ought to do it for others.
A church sign said, "Whoever stole our air conditioning units, keep one because it's hot where you're going." Unfortunately, that message was displayed by a church not far from my office. But is that really the message that neighborhood needs?
Too often, evangelicals are identified as fearful and judgmental. Fearful of people who don't look like us or think like us. Judgmental with a condemning spirit quick to point out all that is wrong in the world — including those who steal air conditioners. But followers of Jesus are supposed to be defined and known not by their fear or acerbic judgment, but by something greater. "For God so loved the world …" (John 3:16) Right? And "Greater love hath no man that he lay his life down for a friend." (John 15:13) "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
We can adhere to the right theology, have all the right answers, win all the elections and even get good laws passed — but if we have not love, we're like a hammer beating on a metal trash can lid at five in the morning. (I Cor. 13:1). Utter irritation is hardly the impression we can afford to have on a world that is in desperate need to be loved and cared for.
Here's the question: can we really love the world apart from a template that Jesus gave us? God incarnate came not to condemn but to save sinners (John 3:17). He came to bind the wounds of the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3), reconcile lost people to himself (II Cor. 5:18) and restore all things (Acts 3:21).
Jesus loved well, and He did it outside the norms acceptable to the religious establishment of his day. He went to dinner with tax collectors and sinners — vile people outside the reach of the Pharisees. He spent time talking with a woman who was in multiple marriages and interceded for the woman caught in adultery. The prostitute wept at His feet and anointed Him with perfume before His death on the cross. "But only if He knew who this woman was," the pharisees said to themselves. But only if we understand the grace lavished upon us to save us from our sins, should be the response.
Humility and love are distinguishing characteristics of Christ followers. As we step out of our comfort zones to engage hurting people living in a broken world, we need to be reminded of the One who stepped down from heaven's perfection to engage each of us in our brokenness and imperfection. He modeled love and sacrifice for our good. The question now is whether we're willing to participate in the mission he began.
(Editor’s note: The next Christianity and Culture conferences will be held in Paducah on Oct. 1 and Somerset on Nov. 5. More information can be found at commonwealthpolicycenter.org.)
Richard Nelson is the founder and executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a non-profit public policy organization based in Frankfort.