Put It In The Trash
Just put it in the trash. To an American reader, nothing would appear unusual about that phrase. However, here in sunny Manchester, it was odd. I was in the middle of a conversation with my 10-year old son about something; I can’t remember what. His solution to the problem at hand was that we just put it (whatever ‘it’ was) in the trash. Why is that odd, you might ask? It’s odd because here in the UK – well, at least up north! - we don’t have trash, we have rubbish.
Where had this casual Americanism come from? How had some trans-Atlantic term of reference made its way into the Percy household? What struck me on reflection [actually, for sake of complete honesty, it struck me as I began to think about this blog!] was that George had been spending some time in a different world and this was its effect. Let me explain…
George plays a game on the computer called Minecraft, in which you build your own little world, including houses, villages, etc. There are things that are basic and easy to pick up, but things that are more complex and not as easily learnt. To that end, George had been watching clips – of Americans – on YouTube in order to learn the skills necessary to progress in the game. What had happened is that his time in this ‘other world’ had influenced him; it had altered the way he spoke and the words that he used.
George has had his vocabulary corrected now, but the whole thing got my mind whizzing. The idea that where we spend our time affects how we think, act and speak. Could it be possible, I wonder, that spending too much time in ‘Not God’ could have an impact upon how we view things, the way we react to things and the nature of our words in certain circumstances?
Whether we like it or not, this is exactly what goes on every single day. Writing to a church in the metropolis that was first century Rome, Paul – an early church leader – recognised that the influences of the world try to mould us, ‘conform us’ to their standard, a debase and dishonouring standard at that. How does such a thing occur? It occurs through every day influences and everyday decisions which have the potential to shape us. TV programmes, magazine articles, films, music – they all bombard our inner-self with a message which is most often contrary to faithful following of Jesus.
Now, hear me well. I’m not suggesting that in one moment, a person’s outlook – their possession and perspective of faith can be shipwrecked. Rather that over time, forces and influences seek to dilute our pursuit of holiness. They assault our view of what’s good, right, noble; what is pleasing to God. Language which once offended can wash over us without detection now, as a result of over-exposure. Scenes we’d be embarrassed to watch with our parents can be readily viewed and justified as ‘part of the plot’ once we’ve become dull to their lewdness; character assassination of another can be embraced as ‘entertainment’; violence can be so normalised that to be provoke shock requires more and more extreme measures. And meanwhile, if we’re blissfully unaware, all of this will be shaping and moulding our views, our attitudes, our values.
But here’s the rub. If the world ‘out there’ is so big and scary, and if it’s so bent on attacking our views and values and diminishing our pursuit of right-living in response to the Good News of Jesus and his unconditional love, then surely the very best thing to do is to run into the safety of the four walls of Christian community and batten down the hatches, simply waiting for Jesus to come back like he promised? The problem is that Jesus didn’t suggest that we do that. In fact, he didn’t suggest anything. He commanded; he instructed. Some of his parting words to his band of merry men – the disciples – were to go! To leave the sanctity and safety of their own ‘panic room’ and head out into a world that would resist and reject them, a world that was full of risk and assault. A world which would constantly seek to undermine their commitment to following Jesus whole-heartedly.
The same command to go extends to us. We’re called and commanded to go into all the world, with an urgent message of hope, living such radical lives of love for one another and love for God that people notice a difference. We‘re called not to shrink back and accommodate and imbibe this world's language and values – to find ourselves referring to ‘trash’ – but to be so devoted to Jesus that the way we live becomes a part of our story of him transforming us.
So, how do we go about living this uncompromising, unflinching life of devotion in a world set against us? How do we remain faithful in pursuing right-living, empowered by God? I want to suggest a one-word answer (and then say more about it, because that’s what I do!): connection!
The single best way, in fact the only way to ensure that we remain ‘fully charged’ in our pursuit of living a life worthy of the Gospel is to remain connected to Jesus. Speaking shortly before his brutal murder, Jesus spoke to his nearest and dearest and issued this instruction: “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” He knew full well the risks and ravages associated with life outside of him. He knew that the disciples – like you and I – were ultimately incapable of bearing any good fruit in and of themselves, but that remaining rooted in him was the best place for them. So, like them, we go (into the world) as we remain (in Jesus).
Our connection, in an eternal sense, is secure. Those who have put their trust in Jesus for salvation are connected in the most real and enduring sense. But we still need to connect day-to-day. Cast your mind back to days gone by – a man and woman could be betrothed to be married (connected, leading to an ultimate consummation) but that connection would be worked out, relished and enjoyed by day-to-day connection: trips to the cinema or dance hall, love letters exchanged and the likes. So, too, do we connect with God each day. Knowing our need, He’s made the means of doing so readily available. Too-common a tragedy, though, is that those means – prayer and His Word – remain under-accessed and under-utilised. I’m not speaking about an ‘out there’ problem, but an ‘at home’ problem. A problem I’m sure many, if you’re honest, would identify with. So let’s re-connect. Let’s resolve by God’s grace to seek Him in his Word and present our needy selves before Him in prayer. Daily. Hourly. Moment-by-moment.
The other means of grace available to us to guard against the drip-drip influence of the world is to stay connected to one another. During this time of increasing restrictions, the ease with which we can do this is changing and there are new challenges to navigate. But we can call, we can write, we can – dare I say it – Zoom! Stay in authentic fellowship with one another; spur one another on. Confess your sins, your struggles and your successes to one another. Share and pray. Pray for others and allow them to pray for you. Recognise your own proneness to drift and to wander, and let others into your journey to check you, to hold you to account.
We don’t need to allow the world to affect the way we speak, think, view and value. The antidote is in our connection to the One who, alone, can withstand the world’s forces. Let's stay connected.