How do we engage the culture in a way that honors Jesus?
The short answer is conversational apologetics. That means helping others reconnect the eternal with the everyday by walking with them the distance from where they are to where the conversation that’s directly about God begins. Think of it as pre-evangelism. It’s all the work that has to be done to an untended, littered, parched, weedy patch of earth prior to actually planting a garden.
Urban gardens and evangelism
Google “urban garden” in the news. What returns did you get? Are you familiar with the reality of food deserts in inner city America? Are you aware of the urban garden movement? Can you see the gospel in it?
Take a piece of inner city America and turn it into a garden that feeds the local community with good things. Yes, you have to start by removing the trash and yes, it’s laborious to till dirt that’s been lying under concrete for a generation. Yes, the soil has to be enriched. Yes, you have to dig down deep. Yes, it takes time and attention and effort. But when people taste and see the Lord is good; when the sun rises and the rain falls and God gives growth; when the harvest is abundant and feeds the body, the soul begins to catch a glimpse of the beauty and truth of the gospel.
My alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary, actually now has a Farminary program. Why? Because, come to find out, there really is something about a garden that is intrinsically true. There really is something about the teachings of Jesus relevant to people who aspired to be post-agrarian. Can you make that connection? Could you take your sun hat and your gardening gloves and pull weeds today in an urban garden? What conversations might be had? What relationships might be cultivated? What fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, and self-control might flower? How might you—and maybe someone else—be renewed in hope and faith across what currently divides?
An Emmaus walk for today
How do we engage the culture in a way that honors Jesus?
Remember Jesus’ walk to Emmaus? He came alongside and joined two people as they walked the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. He observed their distress and grief. He inquired about their conversation, and he stopped and listened to them. He asked an open-ended follow up question and listened to their answer. Then, having listened, he started to talk. He reframed the entire conversation. He gave them the biblical worldview on the issues of the day. He helped them see things from God’s perspective. Their hearts burned within them and eventually, their eyes were opened, and they recognized the Truth that sets men free. They ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to share the good news with others, and Jesus showed up to resolve any doubt and “open their minds so they could understand.” You can read the entire amazing account in Luke 24.
Seven miles is a long way to walk in the desert on a hot day. With whom are you walking today in order that they might talk about their confusion, disappointment, and grief? Are you opening the Scriptures with them as a part of those conversations? Is Christ being revealed to them in the bread you break in fellowship? This is what mission work looks like in America today, and you’re the missionary whom God has appointed to serve in whatever stretch of dusty road you happen to find yourself on.
Jesus entered conversations that cut across cultural barriers. He spoke with women and children and tax collectors and Roman sympathizers and Pharisees and prostitutes and fisherman and lepers and paralytics and blind beggars and teachers of the law. He did not regard himself as out of place in any place, and he did not regard any person as an issue. And as soon as we protest, “well, he’s Jesus!” we belie the fact we don’t quite know what it means to live a Galatians 2:20 reality: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
A life that’s not our own
You and I cannot engage the culture in a way that honors Jesus if we do not understand that the life we are living is not really our own. Jesus is using the vessel of our body, our life, here and now, to advance his own Kingdom purposes. We are the tools. We are the instruments. The Spirit is his, the words are his, the agenda is his. If at any level we continue to think it’s about us—that we are the ones being rejected by the world, that we are the ones being humiliated—then we still have some dying to do.
People often ask me, “How do you know what to say?” The truth is, I don’t. But it’s not about me.
God knows the person who is before me in this very moment.
God knows the circumstances of their conception and the reality into which they were born.
God knows whether or not they were read to and nurtured as a child, the language and entertainment to which they were exposed. He knows if anyone ever took them to church.
God knows the challenges they’ve faced, the pain they’ve suffered, the secrets they hide from everyone else, the self-conscious tapes running through their mind.
God knows how they feel when they stand naked in front of a mirror, the wounds that formed their scars internally and externally, and what they fear.
God even knows what they dream, but dare not hope.
God knows things I could never know and even if I had all the time in the world, I could never learn. So in this moment of time we have together, in this moment of divine appointment only God could set, I trust God knows how to speak his redemptive love into their life.
Knowing God knows them, I confirm that God knows he’s got me. “God, I know you’ve got this person in your heart and in your sight. Take my mind, my heart, my mouth and use me.”
In that two sentence prayer I commit anew to know nothing but Christ and him crucified for the person before me. I admit I do not know whether this is the first tilling of the soil of another human heart or the seed being planted or the watering of the Spirit or the pruning of the gardener or the opportunity for a harvest of righteousness. God alone knows what he has in mind for this particular divine appointment. The less I think about myself and my own inadequacies the better. I am but a mouthpiece, an ambassador, a representative, a conduit, a servant. Jesus is the One who loves this person before whom I sit or stand. Jesus is the One who, by the present power of the Holy Spirit, tenderizes my heart and conforms my conscience and forms my thoughts and gives the words. All I have to do is trust God to be God and then submit to him.
Does that lead to ridicule and rejection? Sometimes. But so what? I don’t particularly care what people walk away thinking of me. I care deeply what they now may be thinking about Jesus. If I’ve done my job, they’re thinking about the possibility there is a God, and he knows them and wants to be known by them.
This is an excerpt from Carmen LaBerge's new book, Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back into Every Conversation (Regnery Faith, 2017).