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Pass the salt

By Mark Batterson

A few years ago our family went to see a baseball game at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Around the fifth inning it started to lightly sprinkle. As I looked up at the stadium lights, I could actually see the individual raindrops falling. I’m not sure what possessed me, but I stood up and started spontaneously dodging raindrops in super slow motion. It was amazing. At least it was to me.

So I’m dodging raindrops, entertaining myself, when I looked over at the third base side of the field. It was like a cloudburst. At first I chuckled at the wet people running for cover, but it didn’t take long for the monsoon to cross the infield. Long story short, we got soaking wet.

Think of culture as rain. You can try to dodge culture, but it’s like dodging raindrops in a torrential downpour. I guess the Amish are semisuccessful at maintaining their 19th-century lifestyle void of cultural influences, but most of us don’t live in Lancaster, Pa.

Culture is influencing all of us all the time. You can’t listen to the radio or go to the movies without ingesting culture. You can’t flip channels or drive down the highway without inhaling culture. Culture is the fish tank we live in.

So here’s the challenge we face as Christ-followers. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” (NIV). James 1:27 warns us against being “polluted by the world.” And Philippians 2:15 calls us to stay “blameless and pure” in “a crooked and depraved generation.”

That’s easier said than done.

How do you keep from conforming to “the pattern of this world” when you work in a dog-eat-dog work environment? How do you keep from being “polluted by the world” when you’re surrounded by media that blaspheme what you believe in? And how do you stay “blameless and pure” when our cultural curators constantly move moral boundaries?

First things first.

We live in a culture where it is wrong to say something is wrong. And that’s wrong. I’d rather be biblically correct than politically correct. So we need to stand against what is wrong.

C.S. Lewis said, “Courage is not just one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” We need to grow a backbone. We need the moral courage to do what’s right even if everybody else is doing what’s wrong! And we need the courage to be countercultural.

But we can’t just be against what’s wrong. We need to be for what’s right.

I’m concerned that the church is better known for what we’re against than what we’re for. And that needs to change. To paraphrase the old adage: We can’t just curse the darkness; we need to light some candles.

Transformers

I believe there are two kinds of people in the world: conformers and transformers. Either you will influence culture or culture will influence you. It’s one or the other.

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus calls us to be transformers: “You are the salt of the earth.”

I read somewhere there are more than 14,000 uses for salt. The uses include the melting of ice, fertilizing agricultural fields, making soap and softening water. So Jesus is making a kaleidoscopic statement. But the two primary functions of salt are preservation and seasoning.

As salt, we’re called to stop cultural decay and add flavor. How? By offering better alternatives! In the words of Michelangelo: “Criticize by creating.” Let’s not just boycott what’s wrong. Let’s celebrate what’s right. Paul didn’t boycott the thinkers of Athens’ Areopagus. He went toe-to-toe with the greatest philosophical minds in the ancient world and competed for the truth.

Jesus was a carpenter long before He became an itinerant preacher. I’m convinced He pursued artistic excellence in that occupation. I’ve always been inspired by Dorothy Sayers’ observation: “No crooked table legs or ill-fitted drawers, I daresay, ever came out of the Carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.”

Our coffeehouse on Capitol Hill, Ebenezers, was recently voted the No. 1 coffeehouse in the metro-D.C. area by AOL CityGuide. And we celebrated that honor because we believe that excellence honors God. For what it’s worth, we built a coffeehouse instead of a church building because Jesus didn’t just hang out at the synagogue; He also hung out at wells. Wells were natural gathering places in ancient culture. As I see it, coffeehouses are postmodern wells. We have hundreds of customers seven days a week. We also hold two of our eight services on Saturday night in our performance space. So we not only serve coffee, we also serve Christ.

So what is God calling you to do? How can you shape culture? What difference can you make?

In his book Roaring Lambs, Bob Briner says we need to send Christians into the culture-shaping professions of entertainment, journalism, education and politics with a missionary-like zeal. Briner envisions “a whole generation who will lay claim to these careers with the same vigor and commitment that sent men like Hudson Taylor to China.”

Christians ought to be producing the best movies and the best music. We ought to be writing the best books. We ought to be creating the best art. Why? Because we have an amazing advantage. His name? The Holy Spirit. He doesn’t just want to anoint pastors. He wants to anoint teachers and politicians and businessmen and journalists and artists. And He doesn’t just work on Sundays. He’s on call Monday to Friday when we’re at our 9-to-5. He’s waiting to come alongside us on Saturdays, too. He’s there 24/7.

Carpe culture!


MARK BATTERSON, author of In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day, recently released his second book, Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God. He is also the pastor of National Community Church (AG) in Washington, D.C., and blogs at MarkBatterson.com.

TPExtra: Read the first chapter of Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson.

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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