When Culture Feels Scary

When you reflect on the past month in the U.S. -- the recent SCOTUS rulings, racial tension and debates over immigration policy, to name a few -- do you find yourself pessimistic and fearful or optimistic and hopeful? Depending upon where you stand on particular issues, a wide variety of responses can be seen. For some, it may evoke celebration. For others, deep sadness. Some, anger, and for many, a great deal of fear. Yet, looking at our particular zeitgeist in comparison to what believers in the Old Testament and the New Testament faced has a way of providing helpful clarity as well as deep optimism. Yes, I said optimism! I am talking about deep biblical optimism, not pollyannish optimism.

In order to get some perspective, let’s consider one example from the life of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 18, we learn that he is near the end of his second missionary journey. He is leaving Athens and heading to Corinth. That, in and of itself, is worth considering. Paul’s time in Athens bore little fruit as far as we can tell. There was no successful church plant there that we are aware of. As Paul leaves Athens and arrives in Corinth, he says this,

I came to you with great fear and trembling (I Corinthians 2:3).

Prior to his time in Athens, Paul had experienced significant persecution for his work of spreading the gospel. The bottom line is this; Paul is struggling with fear as he faces opposition. He is a minority in the cities where he moves and preaches the gospel. He is outnumbered. People think he is crazy and narrow-minded. He is an outcast. His values are at odds with the culture he is moving and living in. Corinth, itself, was a challenging city. Not unlike many of our modern cities in the world.

It is within this context that Jesus speaks to Paul in Acts 18. Listen to what Jesus says and how it is very relevant for believers today.

9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

The last phrase in verse 10 is a game changer as we ponder how we relate to our culture as Christians. Paul certainly hears words of encouragement that bring new strength and resolve to his efforts. Jesus promises to protect him and be with him in the midst of his work in Corinth. But Jesus goes another step. It is a positive statement that changes Paul’s perception of those he will encounter as he goes about his gospel work.

Jesus says that many of Paul’s present adversaries will be his future brothers and sisters in Christ. Not all of them will. Paul will experience ongoing persecution and rejection. That comes with the territory as we follow the King of a very different kingdom. Yet, as Paul relates to his current enemies with a tone and posture of grace, conviction, humility and tenacity, people will find hope and grace in the One whom Paul knows and proclaims.

How are we doing as a church in the 21st century within the context of our culture? Are we pessimistic or optimistic? Do we live in fear or in hope of the advancing kingdom of God; a kingdom of grace, mercy, forgiveness and joyful repentance?

What about your particular church? Do we see the cultural challenges of the day as opportunities for pastoral apologetics; a winsome and persuasive display of God’s kindness and call to a changed life?

What about you? Do your family members, co-workers and neighbors enjoy your company or hope you don’t show up due to your strongly held opinions and the way you express your convictions? Are you fearful and self-righteous?

Paul’s tone and demeanor shifted radically upon receiving Jesus’ counsel. It is the same counsel that you are receiving today. The King is on the move rescuing folks just like you and me. In fact, he wants to use folks just like you and me. We have an opportunity to be the church and represent our gracious King. This starts by building bridges and connecting with people; especially with those whom we may disagree.

Sound scary? If so, know that you have the same promises and encouragement from Jesus as Paul did as he moved to Corinth.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.