"Why is that?"
Studying the book of Nehemiah has been challenging and encouraging.
It has challenged each of us to step into our God-given roles using our God-given gifts for his restorative purposes in the world. But as an empowerment to respond to that challenge, we have seen that our God's restorative purposes in the world cannot be thwarted, and that his good hand is upon us as we go into the world to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
Trusting this means we enter into the fray of opposition, threatening the individuality of those we encounter. We bring the gospel to people who have spent their entire lives building, managing, and protecting their own kingdoms.
This blog series has sought to help us grow in our hand-to-hand combat skills in the midst of opposition that takes very subtle forms. Threatening individuality brings strife and conflict, and we hope that in knowing in deeper ways why this conflict comes about, and how to respond, will help us grow in making disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus.
With wisdom employed, we can fight the right battles as we get to the heart of those who have yet to believe the gospel. Rather than getting bogged down in arguments and debates, we can truly know people and how their kingdom functions. Knowing people and relating to people in deep and meaningful ways moves us toward a mutually encouraging discipleship relationship, which is what we are all about.
Building off of our studies on initiating relationships and learning information about the people we encounter, we are going to go another step deeper.
We are going to consider interpretation.
How do the people we encounter in our neighborhoods, in the dorms, in the office, make sense of the world? How do they view what's wrong with society? Where do they look to for hope? What do they consider to be good news?
What are their hopes, what are their dreams, joys, fears, failures, successes? In other words, how do they define God, the world, and themselves?
Obsessed with Interpretation
Our society is obsessed with making sense of just about everything.
Television shows like The View do not report news, they do not break stories but rather take events and happenings and seeking to answer why they took place. Fox News and MSNBC are great examples of networks who provide in-depth explanations about why things take place through the lens of their conservative or liberal world view.
But it isn't just the news. ESPN had their "embrace debate" philosophy where you put two annoying talking heads across a table from one another with an attractive moderator and yell at one another about the reasons behinds sports biggest stories.
Taking these examples into account as well as all the friction in our culture we see that we not only are obsessed with getting to the 'why' of life but we are fighting for one another to see our views and interpretations as the only right way.
This is a universal trait. We are supposed to be revelation recipients. In Genesis 1:28-30, God gave meaning and purpose to the pinnacle of his creation. But in Genesis 3:1-7, a different voice entered the picture who undermined God's kingdom and revelation."Did God really say..."
Since then our ability to make meaning of life has been skewed, and our life as Christians is getting back to following the revealed will of God. The gospel truth of Jesus' perfect obedience to God's will is where we find our righteousness by faith. Jesus always interpreted life perfectly, in light of who his Father was and who he was. He navigated life perfectly on our behalf, and now by faith we can make sense of a messed up world when everyone around us fights and battles for meaning.
Paul saw some of this in Athens. He walked around the city and learned the details of the culture. What they valued, what they looked to in order to make sense of their world. What he saw provoked him, he was upset about it and was actually emotional over what he saw. The interpretation of life he found in that city messed with him.
The Athenians were obsessed with interpretation as well (Acts 17:21), so Paul entered into that fray having already known that opposition is quick to follow a gospel presentation.
"Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious."
Paul learned how they made sense of the world, and exposed their false interpretation."For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.'"
Here he begins his reinterpretation as he introduces them (more on this next week) to the Creator God."What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it..."
We may scoff at the Athenians for all their gods living upon Olympus, but we have made a mess of meaning ourselves. In our culture today, meaning comes from within as opposed to revelation from outside of us (i.e., God's Word). Each us of determines meaning for ourselves, but at the same time we yell and shout and seek to influence others to come to our way of seeing the world. This paradoxical vortex of meaning is difficult to enter into.
So how do we enter this fray?
Wisdom in Interpretation
If learning information entails asking people, "So what's your story?", wise interpretation asks, "How are they responding to their story?"
As we learn details of people's lives, we jump off of the information shared and take it a step deeper. For example, my wife and I ran into one of her former coworkers at a local coffee shop. My wife initiated a conversation with him and it lasted about 10 minutes. During that conversation, he shared a piece of information about himself that we used to go a level deeper.
How he views marital relationships and relationships in general is quite different than how we view them. So, we asked where his views on relationships came from, why they were so important to him, and what that looked like practically.
As we talked, we learned about motives and desires and fears that he has regarding intimate relationships. We got to know his story and how he was responding to it in this season of life. We were clear that we actually had a vastly different interpretation of relationships and why we held a different view. We were very confident in how we defined these things, our interpretation was and still is based on something greater and outside of ourselves.
His interpretation was his own, and as we talked we were able to show the shaky ground on which he was relating to others. We identified inconsistencies and lovingly pointed them out, asking how he walked in the midst of them. We threatened his interpretation and world view.
But, he did not fall on his knees in repentance. And, my hands were shaking so bad during the disussion I had to keep them under the table. That's the nature of the battle, subtle yet scary.
So we ask "Why?".
"Why do you view relationships in this way? Where does this come from."We found out that he had gone through a divorce, and in response to that totally redefined how he views marriage. Divorce is terrible, and we were able to share our sorrow over the legitimate hurt he felt and still feels.
And, we were able to show a different way of viewing marriage that reflects Jesus' love for his Bride. He had never heard that interpretation before. But now he has. A completely different interpretation of life, in light of the gospel. And I've seen him a few more times, and we have had brief but very cordial discussion. We can threaten individuality and challenge world views but maintain relationship hoping for more opportunities to help them reinterpret life.
If you meet someone new on a Sunday morning, or if they show up to your Missional Community, introduce yourself. Ask for their story, and then as specifics are shared take it a step deeper by asking why this or why that.
As you do, you are asking them to become their own commentator, to explain themselves and the emotions they were feeling, or the motives under the surface. They are not just reporting the news of their lives, but sharing their opinions as well about those specific news stories. We in essense put them on the set of The View and allow them to share their interpretation of life.
You are getting to the heart of the individual, and can start to show them a totally different way of viewing God, the world, and themselves, specific to their life and existence.
Next week we will discuss how we make introductions to our community, and to Jesus himself. For now, ask for stories, and take it a step deeper.