Saturday, May 12, 2007
Relevance is one of those words that can have negative connotations in the religious world - specifically the reformed world. Modern evangelicalism is said to have abandoned much of it's trust in the ordinary means of grace, to the seductions of "relevance". This is where a church starts to think that people shouldn't hear the harsh words of scripture that proclaim man "sinner", or that mankind is doomed to hell unless saved by the grace of God. This kind of relevance manifests itself in the desire to be understood by the culture and trusted, because the church "gets it" and therefore provides a springboard into biblical truth. This, in turn, can lead a person to God. The danger with this form of relevance is that it can water down the truths of God's word, so what you end up with is a message that doesn't sound too dissimilar from what the world has to offer - although it may have a few Christian words thrown in.
A positive kind of relevance is what Paul talked about in his letters - the kind that is familiar with culture, yet is always concerned with sharing the undiluted truth about man's terrible plight and God's unimaninable offer of free grace. I'm talking about Paul being a Greek to the Greeks and a Jew to the Jews. So what's the difference between good relevance and bad? For one, it's a love of truth - all of it. How can the good news sound truly good unless you've faced the bad news in all it's ugliness and fierceness? Reformation theology frees us from the possibility that we're in charge of our eternal state. It frees us to RESPOND out of gratitude to God's incredible mercy. This kind of fearlessness is the fruit of God's truth, so we CAN relate to one another with a kind of openess that's unafraid. Of course, we still ARE afraid sometimes; our flesh can be such a spoiler...
Anyway, on to the deeper path I'm trying to make here. I'm trying to say something about relevance here that gets at the heart of why we are who we are. Here's what I mean: What is man's deepest need? His deepest desire? I think a good answer is to be valued, to be relevant. Who doesn't want others to listen to them when they have something to say? Who doesn't want to feel needed and important? We have our "circle of friends" and family who show us that kind of relevance and we love it. However, what if we get satisfied with that kind of effect, and only let a select few make us feel relevant? The problem is, we start "rating" people according to how "relevant" they make us feel. Guess what? If someone in our life - be it work, church, family, friends - doesn't live up to our "relevance standard", we treat them with less respect, we treat them with less relevance - in effect, "you don't matter all that much to me, I won't give you any more attention than I HAVE to."
This sounds terrible (maybe it doesn't?), but we can slowly fall into this over time. Keep in mind this is so subtle, we may not know it's happening to us. It may be the guy in your office who's a little "nerdier" than you, or the girl at church who's always "bugging" you, or the person who holds a different political view than you, or a different theological perspective - whatever, you can think of your own examples. The point is, it creeps up on you, and before you know it, YOU are turning into a snob. I know I have been. I woke up this morning and realized I'm not the kind of person I really like. Try this: think of a person you really admire, someone you would trust with your bank account, or to pick up your kids from school. Always a willing and eager friend. Why do you like them so much? Because they make you feel relevant. They take the time to listen to you. They respond with affirmation to you. Rejoice with you. Empathize with you. Basically, treat you with respect - a human being made in the image of God.
My problem is, I could think of those people in my life who were like that, but when it came down to it, I wasn't that person. I'm not an eager listener lately. I have people I listen to, but I also have those I kind of "shun". Not outright ignore, but think of as a "less important person". I don't like that about myself. The thing I fear most is being irrelevant. Someone who could drop off the planet and not be missed. Most of the time it comes out at work or church. I'll try to say something, and feel (this could be real or imagined, it doesn't matter) that no one is taking me seriously. Sometimes I'll cover it up with humor, but that just makes it worse. Sure, I get instant results, but eventually, people will think that I'm just a "jokester" and have nothing of substance to say.
Ok, on to the remedy... Are you ready for this?! It' really profound!: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat others as better than yourself. I've determined to let these sentences burn their way into my brain - by the Spirit's power - and not worry about MY relevance, but everyone ELSE'S! I've been so caught up in myself and how people think of me, that I've become my own worst enemy.
Lord, help me to remember that You've shown the greatest act of love and mercy to me. You specifically elected me out of love, not because I deserved it, but because You chose to. I have received the greatest affirmation of "relevance" any creature could. I don't need to depend on other's affirmations for my happiness, I have all the affirmation I need! Therefore, help me to love my fellow man, to have a listening ear to all. To have compassion, to actually CARE about someone other than myself. To be the kind of friend I would want to have. To treat others with RELEVANCE. Amen.