By Carlene Byron
Many years ago, I was just out of school and attending one of those college town churches full of eager young people. One of the young men – I’ll call him Tommy – was enthusiastic about changing the world for Christ. A striking “black Irishman” in what was still an Irish city, Tommy’s blue eyes sparkled in a fair, freckled face topped by ungovernable black curls. He seized on public service and entered municipal government.
“What’s up, Tommy?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said. “It’s the people I work with. They’re mean; they’re petty; they’re conniving. They make every day a misery.”
I looked at him in surprise.
“Tommy. When you took this job, you weren’t expecting unsanctified people to act as if their lives had been transformed by God, were you?”
Tommy took his lesson in the distinctness of Christian life straight up, and boy-oh-boya, was it on the rocks for him. We read, “Be holy for I am holy” and sometimes we translate as far as “Be set apart for I am set apart.” That helps us understand that our God is set apart from all the other gods of this world – that we don’t worship Ba’al, Diana, Asherah, or (more to the point in my neighborhood), Allah, Krishna, Shiva, or Venkataswara. The Lord my God expects that I will not worship any of the other gods who are worshipped in this world.
At the same time, “to be set apart” has taken us into some unhelpful places — specifically, isolation in a subculture where everything from coffee bars to exercise classes can be had under the banner of Christ. We haven’t “gone apart to a hidden place to pray”; we’ve just plain hidden, waiting for all the bad stuff to go away and Jesus to drop from the clouds. When we do pop out, it’s for a few moments (in eternal terms) of spiritual Whack-a-Mole: There’s a sinful institution: Whack! There’s a false god! Whack!
The number of ways we can be distinct from the rest of the world as we seek to imitate God’s character and purpose are almost endless. They demand courage, commitment to each other, and a strength only God can provide as we seek to follow God’s purpose. Over the next months, we’ll find many statements of character, purpose, and intent in God’s Word that help us understand how we are to be distinct from the world, as God is, even as we walk in and through it.
“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” (1 Corinthians 5: 9-10)
God made Christians for: Being distinct, as God calls us to be distinct.
When do you find it hardest / easiest to know that you’re part of Jesus’ “Light Brigade” in the world?
Copyright (c) 2010 Carlene Byron