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We’re at a point in history where our Western society considers Christianity as one religion among many. Christianity does not enjoy the influence and privilege that it once did. In looking in the book of Deuteronomy, we see Moses giving instructions to the generation that will inherit the Promised Land. He reminds them of God’s faithfulness in the past and how God has brought them to this point. Moses instructs Israel to honor God through obedience to the law—that they might be recognized as a “wise and discerning people”—ultimately pointing to the wise and discerning God who dwelled with his people. As Christianity continues to move towards the margins, we have this same opportunity—to live distinct lives that the Spirit can use to point people to Christ.
In 2010, John Mayer experienced a huge fall from grace after using a racial slur and going after a few of his celebrity ex-girlfriends. Mayer was completely ostracized for what he said. Then, a few short months later, he lost his ability to sing or even speak due to vocal chord fatigue. In the wake of this experience, Mayer sold his houses in New York City and Los Angeles and retreated to the solitude of Montana. During his time in Montana, Mayer wrote his latest album called “Born and Raised.” Mayer said he took time to focus on what was really important in light of how far he had fallen. On this album is a song called The Age of Worry, which reflects some of the maturity Mayer now aims to embody. In this particular song, Mayer echoes Jesus’ words when it comes to the subject of providence and the anxiety we tend to feel as God’s creatures.
The culture we live in has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, and how people think of God is one of the major ways culture has shifted in this process. While the majority of people still believe in a higher power and divine guidance, more people seem to be giving up on the idea of God acting as our Heavenly Father. The hit TV series “How I Met Your Mother” is a great example of this shift that has taken place. The worldview being presented in this TV series is called “panentheism.” Rather than seeing God as our Heavenly Father, the show ends up portraying God more as a “heavenly grandfather” who is most interested in seeing young people enjoy themselves. What is absent from the worldview the show consistently puts forth is the belief that God can or does discipline us as His children when we need course correction.
In 2010, a book called The Other Wes Moore hit the New York Times Bestseller list. It’s a true story about two boys that shared the same name, were born around the same time, lived in the same neighborhood, grew up in single- parent homes, and had run-ins with the law. Yet, one turned out to be a Rhodes Scholar and decorated Army veteran, while the other is serving a life-time sentence in prison for murdering a police officer. The author—the Wes Moore who is an accomplished veteran—is asking the question, “What made the difference in my life?” He ultimately says what made the difference is that he took control of his own destiny. The author actually subscribes to a worldview called deism. Deism is a common idea in our culture and is even what some Christians unwittingly believe. The danger in deism is that it removes the notion of grace from the picture and is in conflict with the Gospel.
Life is difficult. You don’t have to live long to figure that out. As a popular bumper sticker reads, “Life’s [tough] and then you die!” The Grey is a movie that highlights this fact, particularly by focusing on a character named John Ottway (played by Liam Neeson). From the very beginning of the movie, we see that Ottway subscribes to a fatalistic worldview. He believes there is no real meaning or purpose to life. Fatalists believe blind, brutal forces rather than a loving God rule history and nature. After a plane crash, as Ottway fights alongside other men to survive, we see his worldview get put to the test. By the end of the movie, we see why Ottway views the world through this lens, and we see what has driven him to this point of despair. In some ways, The Grey is showing that fatalism ultimately leads us to destruction.
During In 1 Kings 17, the prophet Elijah seems to come out of nowhere and jumps into action. Living on the edges of society, Elijah will experience multiple momentous occasions when he is standing on the threshold between two options, and he must choose to either 1) step forward into obedience and transformation or 2) go back to a former way of doing things. These threshold moments, occur when we “have left one room but not yet entered the next room any hiatus between stages of life, stages of faith, jobs, loves, or relationships. It is that graced time when we are not certain or in control, when something genuinely new can happen” (Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return). In 1 Kings 18 and 19, Elijah experiences God’s remarkable power and His gentle patience, and as Elijah learned through these situations, we should not fear the world and waver in our faith, but we should move beyond the threshold and into transformation because God is present and He is able.
During this entire series, we have talked about the idea that God does some of His best work on the margins of society, and He is calling us to live on the margins, too. An immediate question that comes to mind is something along the lines of, “Are we talking about simply helping those on the margins or actually becoming marginalized ourselves?” The answer is both. Why? Because you cannot really help those who are marginalized without becoming marginalized yourself. We see this in how Jesus approached His ministry towards the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast of His society. One thing Jesus regularly did is share a meal with those on the margins of His society. In Luke 14, He tells us we should do the same. Just by associating ourselves with and befriending those on the margins, what we will find is that we, at times, will become marginalized ourselves. But in doing so, we follow the pattern Jesus gave us and experience Him working through us in new and exciting ways.
If you look at the big picture of Scripture, there are two major events that are central to the biblical narrative, and they are the Exodus from Egypt and the Resurrection of Jesus. These two moments tell us something important about God: God does some of His best work in the lives of those who are powerless. These events also show that God frequently works by using our moments of weakness to display His strength. This is something the Apostle Paul focuses on in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul essentially says, “I have gotten to a point where I boast in my weaknesses because when I become marginalized, God can finally use me and show His strength.” The Church is being called to return to this mindset and embrace life on the margins by returning to the realization that true strength for Christians is found in the moments when we are weak.
Scripture is full of stories in which God uses people who are outside the socially acceptable roles of society to advance His purposes. A pattern we see over and over again in Scripture is that God takes our natural assumptions about what is important, elite, and significant and turns them upside-down. This has been part of His nature from the very beginning. All throughout the Old Testament we see God work in and through those who we would least expect. We see this pattern at work yet again in the stories of Rahab and Achan found in the book of Joshua. God brings a social outsider named Rahab into His story and removes a religious insider named Achan from Israel’s history. In comparing Achan with Rahab, we see that God demands loyalty to Him and His mission. We also see that He cares more about our obedience and faithfulness to Him more than our social status or religious activity.
When Christians who are in a position of power consider the calling to bless those on the margins of society, often times what first comes to mind includes, “What do we have to give up to do this?” While there are certainly things we may lose by living on the margins, something else also happens: God calls the powerful to the margins not only to help those in need, but also to save us from ourselves. Richard Bauckham says, “God singled out the poor and the powerless, choosing to begin his work with them, not because God’s love does not extend to the cultural and social elite, but actually for the sake of the wealthy and the powerful as well as for the poor and the humble.” A perfect example of this is found in Genesis 38 and the story of Judah and Tamar. God uses Tamar, a woman who was marginalized, to expose Judah’s hypocrisy, transform his life, and ultimately save him from himself.