Connecting with a culture requires connecting with people – that's a given. But each person is different from you or me, and some are more different than others.
Not only are we different from each other, those differences can be magnified by the different cultures we inhabit. One example of such magnification may be experienced by an English-speaking Western-educated Canadian trying to connect with an Pashtu-speaking Muslim-educated immigrant to Canada. Another example may be for a Baby-Boomer (born ca. 1946-1964) to connect with a Millennial (born after ca. 1983).
How do we bridge the differences among people while being faithful to our God and relevant to the other person(s)?
Let's observe some successful practices for connecting from a follower of Jesus named Philip. The scene I have in mind is found in Acts8:26-40.
An angel of the Lord says to Philip "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." Put yourself in his place for a moment. What would an equivalent direction be to you, and how would you react?
In my case it would be like "Rise and go toward the east to the road that goes from Vancouver to Hedley." A host of questions would enter my mind such as, "Hedley?"; "Why?"; "What am I suppose to do or look for?"
Philip "rose and went ... and there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah" (8:27-28).
What do you notice about Philip's response?
Here are a few of my observations:
1. Philip has an existing intimacy with God and the ways in which he works. We see this in his experiences of proclaiming Christ and touching the lives of people for Christ earlier in Acts 8:4-8, and the fact that he does not doubt or question the angel or his message (8:26-27a).
2. Philip is obedient. There is sufficient direction given him to obey, and the text simply says, "he rose and went" (8:27a).
3. Philip goes with an element of expectation. I might be reading a bit into the text here, but if you were Philip wouldn't you be asking yourself "What's next?" and "What new adventure for God is in store for me now?"
4. In that expectation Philip is necessarily sensitive to the presence and direction of God. His antennae (so to speak) were fully active – something was going to happen, it was just a matter of time and circumstances.
In his expectation, Philip observes a number of things about the eunuch including his ethnicity, importance, reasons for travel, and current activity (8:27-28). This important official had travelled a great distance and, undoubtedly, had been marginalized from the Temple worship because he was both a Gentile and a eunuch. As he reads the prophet Isaiah he manifests that his search for God continues.
"And the Spirit said to Philip, 'Go over and join this chariot.' So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet" (8:29-30).
5. Philip is curious about the other person. He asks a question: "Do you understand what you are reading?" (8:30).
We do well to be more curious about other people. We may not agree with what they believe, or how they behave – but we should seek to understand where they are in their search for God.
Philip simply asks "Do you understand what you are reading?" And the Ethiopian eunuch responds with an implicit invitation: "How can I, unless someone guides me" (8:31).
This leads to them sitting and reading the text together. Then the Ethiopian asks his question: "Who is the prophet writing about – himself or someone else?" It's important that we are curious and responsive about the questions people are asking. Too often we just want to answer questions that aren't being asked.
6. Philip is competent in his understanding of Isaiah's text, and his telling of the message of Jesus. This requires a knowledge of Scripture and an experience of Christ.
Let's summarize these observations so that we can build them into our lives:
First, is a growing intimacy with the one true God revealed as Jesus Christ.
This is not “depersonalized ... information about God” but “the living of everything we know about God: life, life, and more life.” Marshall Shelley expresses this important feature of vibrant Christian living when he writes that “Christ, not ministry, must be my life” and relates Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions with approval: “Resolved: that all men should live for the glory of God. Resolved second: that whether others do or not, I will.”
I refer to a growing intimacy with God. We can be neither complacent about our intimacy with God, nor claim to have "arrived." Paul puts it in these terms (Philippians 3:12-14 NLT):
I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Reflection: Ask yourself, "How can I be growing in my intimacy with God?"
Second, is a sensitive obedience toward God.
In much of our Western culture we often separate obeying God from hearing God. In the Bible, hearing God is inseparable from obeying God. For instance, the Hebrew word shema means "hear, listen, obey."
We need to cultivate the response of obedience to what we hear God saying.
I refer to sensitive obedience to God. What is intended is much more than a grudging acquiescence to his will, or an unthinking response to his commands. The Bible links obeying God with loving God (e.g., Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9, 30:20; Joshua 22:5; Nehemiah 1:5; Psalm 69:36; Daniel 9:4; John 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:2).
Reflection: What have I heard from God that I am not obeying? How can I know what he wants of me? How can I be more sensitive in my obedience toward God?
Third, is an active awareness of the three absolutes of our common humanity.
Absolute #1: Every human – whenever, wherever, and however they live – is wired for God, others, and creation because each of us is “image of God.”
Absolute #2: The image we all are has become distorted or marred – we have somehow been diminished.
Absolute #3: The ‘knowledge’ that we are made for more, and our lives are not as they could be.
I refer to an active awareness. The gospel or good news of Jesus Christ is the divine response to these three absolutes. The gospel is the universal message of deliverance and blessing to all human beings, no matter where or when they live, and no matter which culture they inhabit.
This awareness should be active in a multitude of ways, including:
Reflection: How can I develop a greater level of competence in living and speaking for Jesus?
In coming weeks, we'll explore more examples from Acts for living faithfully and relevantly.
Until next Friday,
John, a brother
 Although this man was born a Gentile, his attendance at the Temple indicates that he had probably become a proselyte to the Jewish faith. The quotation from Isaiah suggests that this man's condition as a eunuch is a significant concern to him. For God neither this man's birth nor his condition are an impediment to his salvation and his full inclusion within the people of God.
 Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2005), 1.
 Marshall Shelley and John Cionca, “Confidence Amid Criticism,” in Mastering Conflict and Controversy, ed. Edward G. Dobson, Speed B. Leas and Marshall Shelley (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1992), 48, 52.
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