No matter what we do culture is dictating to us. Whether we are watching movies or reading a book there are subtle or overt pressures being exerted on us from the world at large. Conform is the message, this is just how things are done if you want to be normal or cool or successful.
Simply turn on the TV and you are bombarded with directions on everything from raising your kids to how to wear your clothing. The messages are everywhere and often very subtle. Sometimes it is really hard to even be aware of a worldly influence pulling at you much less go against it. It is like a swimmer caught in a riptide, it takes a while for the subtle action of the tide to work on us before we realize that we are far from where we should be and are in really big trouble.
As Christians, how is it even possible to be a difference in the world when there are so many forces pulling us in all directions. With media saturation and accompanying messages at an all time high, can we cut through all that chatter and noise and make a difference with people?
The answer is the same as it was at the time of the disciples. Yes, we can make a dramatic impact in life, one person at a time. How do we do it? Through following Jesus and His Word even if it goes directly against what everyone expects of us. It is a job that requires two things: awareness of the Lord’s goals and a willingness to swim against the current. God has given us His Word for a reason. It is the lamp for our feet and a light for our path. We just need to be aware of what it says and be willing to follow it even when everyone else is being pulled the other way.
I saw this in action recently while I attending an event with my sons. It was supposed to be a dad and sons event for a scouting group. The boys and dads were getting together for a joint activity. The goal was to have the older guys working with the younger guys on a project and in the process teach them how to be men. In other words, the goal was not the activity itself, but discipleship.
The word exhortation we see in the Scriptures means words of encouragement spoken to someone close beside you. Bringing believers who are younger or less mature alongside us to show them the way of following Christ is what discipleship is all about. It was a great goal in concept but execution initially was less than perfect.
The problem developed subtly as the meeting got started. The boys arrived and immediately began working on the project with zeal. They were eager and ready to go. Sadly, the issue was not with them but with the men. The dads were the ones who seemed to get caught up in a cultural riptide.
One dad immediately took out his phone and sat down away from the boys intent on ignoring the rest of the time. Two others backed away and started talking with each other about sports leaving the group to whoever happened to be in charge. Other dads gravitated to the two talking guys and two separate groups were the result. Dads on one side, boys on the other with no interaction between the two. Just as society seems to want these days.
The world really has a thing against dads actually acting like fathers with their children today. It is just not allowed. Fathers are depicted and expected to be either blundering idiots, baby daddies or disassociated paycheck machines. There is no positive picture teaching or encouraging men to get alongside their boys and show them how to do life in a way that honors God.
The Father has been a punchline or a villain for so long it is hard for men to understand any other way. Our cultural experiences don’t help with this either. I was at a table with 7 or 8 other men recently and only one of the men had a father who was a positive influence in their life. The rest of the fathers were abusive, alcoholic or absent. Though this was a small sampling, it is not inconsistent with the world at large. Dads have dropped off of the stage and left their kids to the mom, schools, tv or whatever latches onto them. It is no wonder none of the dads knew what to do. The current pushing men away from Biblical parenting is just so strong, many have never seen it done and don’t even realize they are in trouble.
This pressure against dads working with their kids teaching and mentoring them had the group falling right into the trap. They would have stayed there, on phones or chatting about work and the local sports team, but here is where one person following the Word made all the difference.
One Christian dad showed something different, not because he was raised better but because of the Word. He realized the divide was not what Jesus would do and not how Jesus treated others in the Bible. Jesus was up close and personal with the disciples, with his friends, with little children, with everyone. He offered Himself willingly to everyone and pulled them alongside Him to teach them if they were open to it. He did not go off and stare at his phone while there were sheep to tend.
Cultural pressures meant nothing to Him as He ignored the expectations of those around Him and entered into discipling relationships with anyone willing to be taught by Him. He was perfect and sinless but He ate with sinners, drank with the Samaritan woman and cleansed the lepers. Jesus swam against whatever current was necessary to love people and do His Father’s will. Jesus acted differently, the dad observed so the dad broke away from what the pack was doing and did his best to follow after Jesus. The Word was his lamp and his light, he just followed where it led.
This one guy motivated by same Spirit peeled off from the dad group and began working with each of the kids. He asked each how it was going, a little about them and showed genuine interest in the boys who will one day be the face of Jesus’ Church on this earth. He loved them like Jesus loved the ones He encountered. He cared for His sheep so this dad did the same.
A funny thing followed. Without a word or signal, the other dads slowly joined in one by one. Soon there were boys of all ages working side by side with their father or their friend’s father and having a great time doing so. Though the activity itself will be forgotten in the long run, the lived out message of love for even the least of God’s children likely will not.
We were told after the event that it was the best day ever for one of the younger boys. Sure it would have been good just to build something by himself, but this time his dad helped him do it and the other dads too.
Something so simple, but it is the essence of discipleship. It is pulling someone alongside yourself and teaching them while walking with them through this life.
It is just like Jesus did with a bunch of fisherman and tax collectors. Jesus taught by cleaning His disciple’s feet and then telling them “Hey, look what I just did, you do that”. Can it get any simpler?
It is just like Paul did with Timothy or Barnabas with John Mark. They just said follow along with me son, watch what I do, listen to what I say until you are ready to do it yourself. Come close alongside me and I will speak into your life.
It was a great day. It would not have happened without one guy willing to pull himself away from the crowd. One person with Jesus in mind and love for those kids in his heart changed the whole day for two generations of men.
The questions for us are also really simple. Are we willing to pull ourselves away from the pack even if they are church people and swim against the current? If the Bible directs us to act differently than those around us, will we follow? Are we willing to act like Jesus acted even if we have never seen anyone leading like His example in our lives? Is our desire to answer email or talk the local sports team stronger than our desire to follow the Lord’s leading?
If we are willing to challenge expectations and break away from what is easy we can be that guy or gal every single day. The one who changes things. Each day we can influence others toward God just like Jesus, Paul and Barnabas did. We just have to be willing to follow the lamp for our feet and the light for our path. When we do that we bring that light into the life of others.
Are we willing to break away today? Are we willing to be counter-cultural? If we are then we can make a life-changing difference every day and bring the light that leads us into their world.