The Word - Inspire May 2010 - Rob James - The world is waiting for us
Let’s show a commitment to those around us, even if we feel like strangers in our own culture, says ROB JAMES
You don't have to be a Marxist to understand alienation. We feel alienated when we sense that we have little or no connection with those who live around us. It’s not difficult to feel like this if you are a Christian living in Britain today.
- There is a marked ignorance of the Bible.
- We live in an age of suspicion, and many would say a deep-rooted cynicism toward institutions, not least the Church.
- Traditional Christian values have lost their appeal and persuasiveness
- An increasingly secularist agenda has prompted the Archbishop of Canterbury to suggest that Christianity is being sidelined as never before, as though it is a stranger to our nation.
The Psalmist knew something of this: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4).
We can never fully appreciate the sense of desolation and distress felt by the Jewish exiles when they were taken into captivity in 587 BC, but we can identify with their sense of alienation. We can also learn from the challenges they faced as they sought to come to terms with God’s plans for his people.
Like them, we need to be reminded that we have a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11), but we also need to remind ourselves how God expected his people to behave in an alien culture.
“And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
The Church is most like its Lord when it lives for others, and when the focus of its activities is the community that surrounds it and within which it lives. Its mission might be summed up in this simple strapline: ‘Loving God and serving others’.
Joel Edwards understands this. At the recent launch of the Cymru Institute of Contemporary Christianity, the International Director of Micah Challenge exhorted his listeners to show that our God is a God of wellbeing, not an exacting moral tyrant.
“God is good,” he said, “and this should become evident in our culture. Sadly, people tend to see God as the god of prohibition, the god of straitjackets who demands endless praise. But the Bible shows us that God is concerned for the wellbeing of society as a whole and not simply for those who have come to acknowledge his Son.
“And so we need to show that we are committed to seeking the wellbeing of our communities – in fact the world is waiting for the Church to engage in such a way.”
There is a wealth of evidence to support the suggestion that “the biggest single factor in determining whether or not people come to church resides in what they think of the church” (Robinson and Smith in Invading Secular Space, Monarch).
Some friends of mine discovered this truth when war broke out in the former Yugoslavia. They determined to work out the implications of the parable of the Good Samaritan within their devastated communities, and in seeking to bless others they prospered, and are still prospering.
The Christian answer to alienation is incarnation. It always has been – and always will be!
Lord, help me to understand what it means to acknowledge you as the Servant King. Show me what I can do to enrich the lives of those who live around me, irrespective of race, background or creed.
- Rob James is a Baptist pastor and journalist based in Pembroke, South Wales