When the Divine Trinity goes to work, a glorious awkwardness sets in.
I remember late night seminary homework, when the words on the pages started to blur like toner streaks. Even Red Bull couldn’t fix that kind of weariness. Terminology such as contextual, incarnational, reciprocal, communal, relevance, counterculturist, transformationist, all took turns on my fatigue-addled mind. Each had complex submenus of its own, and all described in one way or another how Christians ought to live in their world and engage it while staying true to the gospel.
Since I wasn’t exactly a Johnny-come-lately on the ministry scene, I was already familiar with how these smart sounding concepts worked in real life. One good thing about seeking higher education after you’ve already gotten considerable experience is that you can at least put a name on all the stuff you’ve done—or done wrong. I guess that means I was hauling hogs and hay around in the farm pickup before I “learned” to drive.
As I deliberated over American culture for instance, I thought of my prior Christian fellowship. It had made no effort to engage the mainstream (unless you wanted to count going house-to-house and showing people theology diagrams through their screen doors). Any more ambitious attempts to connect with the modern era were denounced as worldly or labeled as “sell-out Christianity.”
We ended up living inside a biosphere, doing things that seemed strange to outsiders and getting mad if anyone called them weird. It seems a lot of the pain and misunderstanding Christians suffer is probably self-inflicted. Not much of it has to do with the evil of unbelievers, or any deliberate plot of the devil. When we choose to live on the Isle of the Ingrown, we shouldn’t be outraged when people roll their eyes.
Along comes the inevitable knee-jerk reaction. That’s when we decide to look normal (whatever that is), and endeavor to minimize the appearance of being evangelical. Maybe we try a little too hard with the bad tattoos, and casual profanity. We’ll even dialogue with the guy in Starbuck’s who has large holes in his ear lobes and chat up religious relativism. After all, it’s socially cool to explore how Buddha has many qualities Christians could learn from. Plus you’ll get kudos from that über hip guy, who might say what an open-minded Christian you are.
It seems Christians today will concede all these things and more to neutralize gospel awkwardness. But if you’re really involved in the Christian life, there’s an early limit to how much people are going to high-five you. You’re strange, but don’t worry too much about it, because not every kind of strange is a bad strange.
First of all, we are “elect, according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Pet. 1:1-2). In this current culture, that means being on the wrong team. Hanging around with God is like sitting with the wrong person at the school lunch table—the person everyone else tries to avoid.
Since not everybody is on the best of terms with God, it follows that they won’t feel very chummy toward you, either. Even if you sit with others at their table, and swap lunches with them, the time will come to invite them over to your fellowship. On that other team. With that Team Captain they just don’t like. If you haven’t felt the awkwardness of it, you probably haven’t assisted someone in coming to Jesus yet. And maybe you spend a little too much time wearing the other team’s jersey.
Second, the Holy Spirit sanctified you, which means “to set apart” (1 Pet. 1:2). That says it all. The Spirit intends to remove you from the mob that murdered Jesus. That means prior to your official salvation date, you started to stick out.
Five years before I came to Christ, I said to my high school buddy Marcel, “Time is ticking away in one direction. That means we’re losing our lives a little more each day, and we can’t get it back. Don’t you think that’s kind of tragic?” “Oh man,” he shot back, “Don’t start that kind of talk again!” No doubt the Spirit had stirred some of my philosophical angst and I was looking, well, a little weird to my friend. Subjects like the emptiness of the world, the afterlife, and sin, are about as popular as plaid blazers.
Third, the Spirit’s activity moved you to obey the gospel of Christ and get sprinkled in His blood (1 Pet. 1:2). That effectively freed you from the future penalty of sin and from the daily condemnation of it. In a land of captives, the freedman is odd indeed. Without the cloud of dirt covering you like Pigpen in the Peanuts comic strip, you feel curiously free. The sky is blue above your head. You can pray. You can sing. The blood of the One who loves you has now covered you. Compared to Him, the whole encyclopedia of world religion simply pales. This isn’t blind prejudice. It’s just that none of their founders died for us! That makes our preference for Christ not only a theological reality, but a deeply personal one. Others might be willing to assign Jesus equal status with the gurus of the world, but not us.
The bottom line is that the Holy Trinity—Father, Holy Spirit, and Son—made you strangely glorious. It’s etched into your spiritual identity now. In fact, your strangeness is the only hope critics have at seeing God’s work in another human being.
Please don’t try to “fix” yourself.