Recently I traveled to England. Whenever I go to the UK, I try to visit new places that I haven’t been to before (Stonehenge, Oxford, Whales, etc.). This time I was introduced to a quaint English village called Malmesbury. In the center of town there is an historic abbey filled with history, relics and incredible stories.
While admiring this beautiful old Church and it's legacy, I couldn’t help but notice a stained glass window with a monk with wings named Eilmer of Malmesbury. Inspired by the Greek fable of Icarus (Icarus father Daedalus crafted and fastened wings to his son Icarus inspiring him to fly), Eilmer himself was inspired to take to flight Being an avid stargazer and studier of astrology, he perched on the top of the Abbey and proceeded to jump...being the first man recorded to fly. He is expected to have flown over 200 meters- stunning his colleagues and mesmerizing the town and becoming the first man (and monk) to fly!
Greek poets have dreamt about it.
Ancient myths and legends have written about it.
Man has desired it.
A Christian did it.
Although his first attempt was his last (Eilmer only made one flight) it seemed to inspire many others to take the same leap. Maybe this inspired Leonardo de Vinci coming up with more than over one hundred sketches for flying. Perhaps that promoted two French brothers by the name so Joseph & Michel Montgotifere to come up with the idea of the air balloon. Possibly this compelled two American brothers by the name so Orville and Wilbur Wright to test their first flight at Kitty Hawk located in North Carolina opening their first flight school for public.
Here’s the point:
Christians are meant to be cultural influencers. Christianity is destinied to be at the center of culture creating ideas, bringing inspiration and fulfilling aspirations. In Malmesbury and in many of these old communities, the center of town has a church with a steeple rising above the others homes where the community built itself around the church because the church was full of life, ideas and creativity making the community a better place. Now many of these churches are hollow relics of outdated ideas and irrelevant beliefs. While still physically located in the interior of these beautiful villages, they are spiritually perimetric to its village inhabitants.
Once Christendom was central in community and the source of thriving innovation, it now seems peripheral to community and languishing with imitation.
So the question is, “Where are the flying monks?”
When culture had a dream to fly, God gave it to Eilmer. When the community had a desire to believe for the impossible, God gave it to the church. All Eilmer had to do was take the leap. Despite rationale, reason and restraint, Eilmer chose to climb the stairs, open the window, scale the roof and take the leap. And you should culturally take the leap, too.
Taking the LEAP in culture means:
L - LEAD TOWARDS SOLUTIONS
So much of what we are seeing in culture is a result of brokenness. Broken people break people. Hurt people hurt people. But healed people heal people. Free people, free people. Stop reacting to what you see happening and start responding to where you see Jesus moving. It’s easy to look at unredeemed people, places and things in culture and reject them. Instead let’s be restorers of culture. Let’s be the ones with the solutions to help fix what is flawed. Have conversations not confrontations. Live a lifestyle of generosity in front of others. Model forgiveness. Choose integrity in all circumstances. If God has given you the ability to see the broken places around you then he will give you an ability to see a need to help the broken places around you. Instead of creating walls, create opportunities. Jesus chose to go into difficult places, not avoid them. He was seen with the marginalized, the broken and the hurting. He was a friend of drunks, sexual deviants, outcasts, etc. He was more pro-woman than any political figure in history considering the context of the first century. He was more “politically right” with his beliefs about Scripture, loving the religious, supporting the Roman military and leading with charity. He also was more “liberal” with the way He chose to love: Jesus fed the hungry, reached out cross-culturally, identified with the poor, loved the religious and fought for the outsider, etc. He chose to live by breaking down walls. When we break down walls and come together with those who are different than us, we show the world that we are His disciples and that Jesus is who He said He is.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
E - ENGAGE ENTHUSIASTICALLY
Take an inventory of what culture admires, enjoys and believes in as you attempt to engage with culture around you. Humbly ask questions, look for signs of admiration in what they are talking about and start engaging. When you discover what culture admires (i.e., the altar to the unknown god) that’s your starting point to engage and find the common ground in it. If they love spirituality…so do you. But your “center” is Jesus. If they are talking about a movie, find out its theme. Celebrate the themes of redemption, forgiveness, honor and sacrifice…all Biblical themes (don’t worry about rating, language, etc.; you’re finding common ground remember?) Find spiritual themes behind music songs and celebrate those themes (Coldplay, Mumford & Sons, Ariana Grande, etc.) . Observe supernatural themes and redemptive analogies in tv and movies (American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, etc). Use culture to speak to these things. If you feel you can’t watch it but you hear others talking about it, then do easy research. There is enough on Wikipedia and other entertainment sources to give you an understanding so that you can have some knowledge about these cultural pieces even if you don’t know the show.
It’s easy for us to put people into catagories: unsaved friends, worldly neighbors, secular campus, immoral co-workers, etc. I understand that these are harmless descriptions in most instances but over time we place ourselves in a position of US and THEM when God is desiring WE. Jesus created meaningful relationships with society’s sinners and outcasts. Establish a relationship on common ground. Instead of shaming culture for their false beliefs and gods, Paul does something that we also can do: find common ground. Paul does this by asking about, listening to and acknowledging their “Unknown God.” This was his common ground and we can do the same.
“So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: ‘Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way,for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.” Acts 17:22,23
A – ACCESS YOUR AUTHENTIC UNDENIABILITY
Rise above culture by being undeniable. There was an undeniable authenticity to who Jesus was when He was engaging in culture. When culture wants to dictate the rules and call the shots…Jesus made his own rules and called His own shots. Culture was set on the agenda but Jesus was sent on assignment. Jesus wasn’t drawn into the fights of others but instead, Jesus was demonstrating faith to others. Jesus never allowed others to pull him into their debate. Because the world isn’t looking for someone to win the latest debate in the culture wars. The culture war is dying out and the idea of being in a “battle” is an imagery that is less appealing to both Christians and non-Christians. If we posture ourselves to a dialogue than to engage in a battle for truth, we will most likely be more effective. So, Ignore becoming another whining or angry voice in the mess. Instead rise above it. Stick to the agenda Jesus gave us from the beginning because it hasn’t changed: Love God, love others and make disciples. Let me tell you what evangelism is not:
+ Having an acute knowledge of theology
+ Being super bold about faith issues
+ Reserved for only certain Christians
+ Bringing people to church
+ Being extremely educated and extraordinary
Simply put, evangelism as moving someone one step closer to Jesus. It’s sharing your story of how Jesus has impacted your life with someone. It’s inviting someone into your life and having a conversation with them about your life. To be someone who can share faith with others, all you need to be is unschooled and ordinary.
"Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus." Acts 4:13
P - PRIORITIZE PATTERNS
You have the power to shape the culture. To do so, you must model the behavior you want seen. This means acting the way you want others to act. This means doing the things you want done, done.
Jesus showed a new behavior for us as followers of Jesus that we were to model: erase the boundaries that divided up culture as “us and them” and declare “we.” Jesus modeled living a life of going into broken places and fixing them. Jesus modeled this idea of "living out restoration" so much that He confused others with his actions to be with those who were considered unclean that He Himself was thought to be a drunk, glutton, friend of the cheaters…basically a sinner just like those He was reaching (Matthew 11:19).
That doesn't mean we can just do what we want and go to wherever we want to go without thinking. Jesus was intentional with everyone he met and everything He did. Jesus set Himself apart with His disciples to worship, show devotion to God away from the world. Jesus had his 12 disciples that He prayed for and with that were lifegiving relationships that were essential for him. To live consistently as a restorer and to redeem culture, you need a healthy community that you can get encouragement and prayer from. You need a place to get realigned with God’s truth regularly so that you don’t drift off course. So model having more conversations and less confrontations. Live a lifestyle of generosity. Model forgiveness. Be an inviting person instead of a convincing person. Don't get me wrong, being convincing is a good thing. But don't sacrifice your access to others at the expense of being assured by others you are right. This makes us not only lose touch with our culture but it isolates us as well. Smugness and superiority in things of faith are not appealing but humility and serving goes a long way. I think that’s why grace is so appealing. Grace is inviting and not imposing. Grace and truth go together (John 1:17). So let grace lead the way and truth will back you up when necessary.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.