Relating to the Culture Around You - March 2019

By P. Daniel Buford     Have you ever felt like a misfit? A square peg in a round hole? Do you ever feel out of place? Jared Brock humorously wrote, “I definitely felt out of place at first, not unlike being lactose intolerant in Wisconsin.” A poet wrote, “How lonely it is! To be drowning, in a place where everyone can swim.” 

Sanford Jesse Massengale wrote the lyrics to the gospel song, “I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted to This World,” published in 1935, in another century and in another culture. The lyrics, though, still express the position of Apostolic believers in today’s culture.

Mira Kirshenbaum, in Everything Happens for a Reason, wrote about a misfit squirrel—one that had been removed from his forest setting and plunked down in the middle of a desert. “Depressed, anxious, confused, completely at a loss” is Mira’s description of the misfit squirrel. Like Mira’s squirrel, Christians in the world’s culture are misfits. While we have been born again into a new culture—the culture of Christ’s kingdom, we have been called to influence the old, sinful culture around us. The question is, how can we relate to the culture around us? How can we influence it without being swallowed by it?

As believers, sometimes we can feel like we are paddling upstream when the whole world is paddling downstream. We can readily relate to stories such as “The Ugly Duckling,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Beautiful Joe.”

The Apostolic believer can question and empathize in harmony with the psalmist Asaph, when he wondered in Psalm 73:2–16, “My feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. . . . They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. . . .  I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. . . . When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me.”

But then, Asaph rescued the moment and the mood by stating the conclusion of the matter, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (v. 17). We are a misfit in this world, until we seek God in His sanctuary—there we fit!

Recently a new convert, with many problems at her home of unbelievers, said to me, “If only I could live in the church house all the time.” She felt at peace in her sanctuary surroundings, contentment among friends, love from above and from fellow believers, acceptance for who she was and where she was on her God journey, and God-given power to live above sin. She didn’t want to go home, back into the world’s environment, to a culture contrary to her new position as a child of God. She loved her new culture, but she was having serious trouble victoriously relating to her old culture.

Jesus Christ prayed for the apostles and all believers in John 17. “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine” (v. 9). “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (v. 15-16). “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (v. 18). Jesus sends the believers into the world, not to be drawn back into the world’s web of attraction and deception, but to make a difference, to be influencers for Christ Jesus.

One of my first sermons was in 1972—“Are You a Thermometer or a Thermostat?” The message is still viable today. God does not want His people to be thermometers, merely reporting the temperature of the culture around them. Instead, He wants His followers to be thermostats in their cultures, people who change things, not just merely declare the state of affairs. Instead of us just reporting what is wrong, He desires us to reveal the answers contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead of just passively existing in a contrary culture, we are called to influence it. As prayer warrior Vesta Mangun recently said, “My body is a warfare instrument!” God wants the Apostolics of the twenty-first century to fit the description of those of the first century—“These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also” (Acts 17:6).

How do we relate to the culture around us? By God’s grace, power, and authority, we prayerfully and boldly declare the Good News of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.