Here is a close-up photo of a recent birthday party celebration at our house for five children (and me). Since it’s not possible for us to attend everyone’s actual birthday, we took this opportunity this July 1st weekend when a couple of families were with us to celebrate a bunch of birthdays spanning the months of March to August. The experience of being together for a short time celebrating like this represents a microcosm of one important part of our lives.
After everyone had gone, I’ve had occasion to reflect on the larger picture of what life, in general — and mine in particular — is all about. So often we’re taken up with the details of life, as reflected in this picture, without much thought about life otherwise. But such detail isn’t meaningful unless it is understood in larger context of our lives. We tend to easily miss the beauty of the great forest by merely being focused on its individual trees. On the other hand, the importance of small details in our lives might also be eclipsed by too much concentration on the larger picture. We need both.
But it seems to me, that in recent times, our tendency as a general society (and the church) has been to miss the wonder of the minutia of our daily lives because we don’t really see the larger context. We are like kids playing in a huge cornfield not realizing we are losing our way because we don’t know the location of the surrounding roads.
I think we live in such a time. It seems to me, that in our rush to enjoy the moment and make the most of our daily lives, we are growing increasingly frustrated with so many aspects of life simply because we don’t really see the big picture. It is characteristic of these postmodern times that we tend to abandon questions of origin and destiny for the sake of existential experience. What I mean is that the pursuit of the immediate has increasingly begun to eclipse the rationale for life itself. This is partially due to the fact that modern technology enables us to experience almost anything we want in an instant. But it’s also due to the fact that we tend to be too easily satisfied with experiences of the moment, not realizing that such pursuits will remain superficial unless they are ultimately tied to the larger questions about life.
It is for this reason that I am increasingly dedicated to doing whatever I can to help people see their lives in the context of the big picture. I sense this is God’s calling to me in these days. I want to help people see life, and their lives, from the 30,000 ft. level. In that sense, I am a geographer. Maybe it’s the reason I have always enjoyed maps — seeing where I am in relation to the whole. It’s what I love about traveling — exploring various details of a place or community in the context of its geographical location. And I don’t think I’m alone in that interest. Though some of us are naturally more “directionally challenged” than others, I think all of us ultimately like to know where we are in relation to that which is familiar.
I realize there are many people who are content simply being occupied with the here-and-now. In fact, it is often the case that they don’t want anyone to disturb their preoccupations with those larger questions of relevance. For it means that they might have to change or give up some of those temporary interests. After all, not too many kids like to be told that it’s bedtime and that they have to get a good night’s sleep in order to enjoy the next day. So I won’t be surprised if there’s some push-back on my suggestion to be well-informed about the big picture.
So, how do I intend to draw people’s attention to the big picture in these times? Well, for one thing, through writing in various contexts. I want to communicate in a way that causes people to re-examine what they’re doing in the light of those larger questions. That is what I have already tried to do through my book, Thoughtful Adaptations to Change: Authentic Christian Faith in Postmodern Times (Amazon, Friesen Press), In my Blogs and Newspaper writings, I want to get people to think about the incongruencies of our culture’s common interests in relation to larger questions. For example, I think people would be interested in knowing about a more biblical theological perspective when it comes to such things as climate change, human sexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and the environment. I think there is a great need for pastors and Christian leaders, out of their biblical and theological knowledge, to sensitively but courageously speak out about these things. It’s a means by which people can come to appreciate and ultimately embrace the Gospel.
In my work with churches and Christian ministries, I think it is important for Christian people to have a strong rational foundation for their faith. Since it appears that so much of faith is emotionally-driven in these times, it seems to me there is a greater need than ever to show the relevance of the Christian faith to the practical affairs of our daily lives. In preaching and teaching, I think it is supremely important to help people understand, not only the content of Scripture, but how it demonstrates the very nature of the Gospel and the doctrines of the faith that flow from it. I believe people are longing to know how the Bible is able to effectively speak to the issues of our times and the questions that people have about their daily lives.
In other words, if we’re going to enjoy playing in the cornfield, we have to know its boundaries because without that knowledge our sense of play will quickly turn to an overwhelming sense of fear and dread (not to mention very real loss).
I do resonate with your statement about people wanting to know how the Bible speaks to the issues of our times. I know I am in that camp. However, it seems to me that preachers are afraid to speak to specific issues, afraid even to give a framework for thinking about all that is going on.
For example, the only sermon I have ever heard on the subject of racism was when my refugee friend invited me to go with him to a local mosque. It was a sermon that could have been preached in any evangelical church. But why won’t we hear that sermon? I suspect it is because of fear of losing members, the pastor fear of losing his job. When there were mosque shootings in Quebec and NZ, how many pastors could even mention it without getting into trouble. I know it was not mentioned where I was. C&MA founder A.B. Simpson lost his preaching post for reaching out to immigrants, and I suspect not much has changed today. When I asked a prominent Evangelical media ministry as to why they never spoke on the issue of homophobia, their reply was simply the fear of loss of financial support. It is is the same with other current issues such as environmental/ecological related, ministry to refugees, MMIWG (missing and murdered indigenous women and girls), etc. Our pastors cannot preach on these matters and maintain their posts, when their listeners have already pre-set the boundaries according to political biases, self-preservation, etc. A recent experience I had, was hearing a sermon about God’s faithfulness, wanting to bless us, etc… and then, within a few minutes, overhearing a couple of ushers talking about how Pres. Trump is the only hope for restoring the provincial oil-based economy.
A part of the problem of course is also the preacher’s bias as he or she comes to the text. A committed right wing conservative will read the text and see boundaries that are quite different than one with a liberal/democratic bent. Some personal examples: when I have raised issues relating to LGBQ community, the condemnation I received was “You are a friend of that community” which was the reason for rejecting even the discussion; when I have raised the issues regarding mistreatment of refugees, the condemnation I received was “You read left-wing media” which was the ground for rejecting my point; when I raised the topic of climate change, environmental issues etc, the basis for rejection is always “There is no scientific basis.” When I mentioned the rise of white supremacist groups in Canada and in my province, the response as a basis for rejection of the discussion, was “Consider the source of your information.” In all of these matters and others, there is what is called “denialism”, the inability to consider information that might challenge the status quo, challenge personal security/life style, etc. and the western evangelical church, as I see it, is quite thoroughly caught up in it. (google “denialism” for further insight).
So thanks Ed for raising the matter! Be blessed as you continue your ministry.
Thanks for your comments, Doug. My main point is that we need to be prepared to preach and teach the whole counsel of God even when it might ordinarily seem uncomfortable.
I agree that we need to reach out with the Gospel to people of all colours, faiths, and life-styles in love. But we also need be ready to teach what the Bible has to say about the stewardship of our personal and natural resources, about the sanctity of life, about parenting, about the proper regard for seniors, and about human sexuality. In an important sense, the Gospel is apolitical; it cuts both ways.
But, I also think it is evident that a non-believing, secular person will have a different view on a lot of these things from someone who is a Bible-believing Christian. We need to be prepared for push-back on making that distinction while reaching out and demonstrating the love of Christ to those who oppose.
The bottom line for me is that Christians are consistently representing God’s perspective and attitude on these subjects and differences. The question is, how can we represent God’s truth in such a way that will draw people to recognize Christ’s salvation from sin and His supreme Lordship in their lives?
Of course, in the end, Christians will have and hold political convictions that will promote their Christian beliefs. This is not surprising. And there will always be differences even among them concerning the application of Christian truth in the general society.
What Christians have in common, I think, is the desire for a government that allows for Christian freedom and the communication of the Gospel (which, according to the Scriptures I believe, has to do with individual faith response to Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world).
Thanks again for the interchange; it would be great to visit to discuss these matters further. ED
Hi Ed – I so loved your article, and train of thought– the need for balance between living in the moment and living for eternity, and how each perspective gives meaning to the other. I wrote out a reply, but have tossed it away because I was basically repeating what you’ve written. So I just want to thank you for the article.
In Doug’s reply, many of the social and moral issues of the day are put forth with examples of the shallow thinking and reactions of people, even Christian people. We need to know God’s mind and heart on these many concerns, and be able to express what his Word teaches in an intelligent, engaging, and respectful way. But we must do this with a view to always returning to our main message, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing our trespasses against us… We are ambassadors for Christ, not of any political party or personal bias on these different matters.
Many of the problems mentioned in the blog, whether moral, political, or social, are man-made and man-centred. They wouldn’t exist but for the fact of man’s fallenness and separation from God. That’s why we have to keep coming back to the larger picture of life – where did we come from? Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Can God be known? What happens when we die? These are the real questions, the real concerns, and there are no answers outside the revelation God has given us in his Word.
Pastors and Christian leaders should help their people confront the problems that plague our nation and the world, and to gain a biblical perspective and attitude. God is not silent on the issue of environment, sex, family, immigration, etc. but once again, the deeper problem is the heart of man, and the only solution to our sinfulness is the redemption provided for us in Christ. Christ delivers us from this present evil world, makes us citizens of his kingdom, and in that kingdom we learn to love him, to love others, to love what is true and to walk in paths of righteousness. So the command stands firm: ‘Preach the Word…’
Apart from these worldly issues, I find ‘the larger picture of life’ (seeing life from God’s perspective) is essential to making my daily life meaningful and purposeful. You’ve made this point very well, so I won’t elaborate on it. Except to say, that the fruit of having ‘wisdom from above’ is that it produces in me a thankful heart — ‘in everything giving thanks, for this is the will of God for me in Christ Jesus.’
Well said, Doug R. Thank you for your encouraging word. “Right on the money!”
Well said, Doug R. Thank you for your encouraging word. “Right on the money!”