who are your people?
It was 1970 and the cultural divide was deep and wide. People barricaded themselves behind seemingly insurmountable social walls: hippies vs. clean-cut, establishment vs. anti-establishment, pro-Vietnam war vs. anti-war activists. At the time, Southern California was exploding with barefoot flower-children hitchhiking up and down Pacific Coast Highway.
In many homes it was a time of unrest and uncertainty for parents. And within churches, pastors grappled with how to reach a generation more interested in rock and roll than in the Rock of Ages. For some, the solution was to preach harder against the moral decay in culture and decry the unrest erupting all over our country.
Some churches resorted to planning protests of their own, calling for youths to repent by smashing their evil rock and roll records at the altar or collectively tossing them into bonfires. Such events made a scene and made the news—but they didn’t stop kids from growing long hair, challenging values, and asking hard questions.
That was the scene, but let’s zoom in for a close-up. Come with me into a typical Los Angeles suburban home. A forty-something woman wearing a blue polyester dress, with polished nails and perfectly coiffed hair, sits with her open Bible on the round maple table in the breakfast room. Seated across from her, with elbows on the table, are two long-haired guys in t-shirts and torn jeans. One has a white headband with the letters A G A P E scrawled on it, tied around his forehead. I kid you not.
The woman’s name is Pilar, and she was my mother. The boys, Eugene and Mark, were my new friends. I invited them to our home that Saturday all because they had shared the Good News with my 13-year old self on the grassy lawn of a college campus a few weeks prior. I had given my life to follow Jesus that day and had them to thank for it.
These guys had nothing at all in common with my mother except their love for Jesus—yet here they were, three people sitting comfortably together, engaged in vibrant conversation. What is it about someone that causes you to relax and say, “ah…these are my people.”
When I first became a Christian, I didn’t change to fit the way a “typical” Christian girl dressed at the time. I kept my torn jeans, halter tops, tapestry dresses, huarache sandals. My hair stayed messy and incense and patchouli oil was still my favorite scent. Some of you remember those days.
I still liked boys with long hair and their beards longer. My “tribe” expanded and some called us “Jesus Freaks” but inside, our hearts had changed. We even grew to value those adults in authority.
It took a few weeks for my mom to realize that I was truly changed. I was no longer disengaged and disrespectful. I quit ditching school, coming home late and glassy-eyed. Mostly, I was just interested in reading my Bible, talking to her about Jesus, and listening to what she had to say.
Christ tore down the walls.
Christ had torn down those dividing walls, just like the apostle Paul said (Ephesians 2:14).
We’re naturally drawn to people with whom we share similar interests and experiences, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong at all, unless those affinities end up erecting walls that exclude or cause division within the Church.
What is it about Christ-followers that should bind us together? Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). How well are we doing with that in our present culture?
C.S. Lewis said it well: “When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world.”
Before we are “in Christ” there is only one category of people: sinners. In God’s eyes, we were all on the outside. Do you remember that about yourself? Yet we tend to label people and forget that before coming to Jesus, we too were without God and without hope in this world.
The Bible teaches us that in order to reach someone with the gospel, we must lay aside our preferences. Paul himself set that example in 1 Corinthians 9. “To the Jew I became a Jew…to those outside the law (Gentiles) I became like them.” That doesn’t mean we shape-shift to identify with whatever is culturally relevant, but we must be willing to listen and learn and do our best to understand. Something greater has come into our heart to define us.
Who is there that you are challenged to love in spite of differences? Our identity in Christ is deeper and goes beyond that of your natural tribe’s culture.
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This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what He is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now He’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. – Ephesians 2:19-22 (The Message)