Does the way I live make sense in the light of eternity?
In a talk that I attended earlier this month, one of the leading social entrepreneurs in Singapore shared about his experience in church. He felt that the brand of Christianity that he was surrounded by was overly introspective — prayer requests for their car’s latest hiccup and people complaining about how stressful living in Singapore is. He termed this first world Christianity.
First world Christianity — like first world problems — is a myopic focus on our perceived lack, when we already are living in abundance. It is the focus on our immediate surroundings, while the periphery slips into oblivion. I, myself, am guilty of being a first world Christian. I am inadequately aware of the needs in Singapore society, and I certainly am not doing anything about it. Often times, all I fixate upon is how much God is speaking to me or blessing me, rather than how I am caring for the poor and needy or loving the broken. I know of friends who regularly volunteer at residential homes for the elderly, but I haven’t found the time or will to join them. When world issues are concerned, I am shamefully ignorant of what is happening to our brothers- and sisters-in-Christ suffering under immense persecution by the Islamic State.
The major crises the world is facing now — ISIS, Ebola virus, HIV/AIDS, military conflicts — should not come as a surprise to us. After all, the Bible warns us that we will “hear of wars and rumours of wars[;] nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24 NKJV).
It is in times like these that we are often exhorted to pray; I have received numerous WhatsApp chain-messages from well-meaning friends about the situation in Iraq or Syria and how we can pray for them. Unfortunately, I have become de-sensitised to such messages. Over time, the updates sound similar; nothing changes as the situation is always bleak. It seems that whatever I do here will not amount to any effect in the Middle East. In all honesty, the region is in such turmoil that caring about it will require too much of me.
Life in Singapore is neat; my responsibilities are clear. All I need to do is focus on studying hard, do well for my assessments, and serve God in church — it is a routine that I have grown accustomed to.
Reflecting on the social entrepreneur’s commentary on first world Christianity made me realise that I was living life in such a dangerous manner. I was self-absorbed in my familiar routine and have lost sight of eternity. My brand of Christianity revolved around personal convenience and comfort. Going to church is convenient — it is barely 3 km away from home. During sharing in cell group, I share what is convenient and easily rub out the messy details. I enjoy the comfort of cushion seats in an air-conditioned auditorium where we have our worship services. I do my devotion in a comfortable café enveloped by the aroma of roasted coffee beans and toasted baguettes. This is hardly the brand of Christianity presented in the Bible.
Just about that time, during one cell group meeting, my friend posted a hypothetical question which caught me totally off-guard: If Jesus were to come back while we are still alive, would we recognise Him? Speaking about the end times, Jesus said, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many…At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it…So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24:4–5, 23,26 NIV). Many will claim to be Jesus, many will flock to the “Jesus” they believe to be genuine. Who will I run to? Do I know Him enough to pick Him over the others? Or will my decision be based upon who my parents or pastors choose?
I realised that I had to know Jesus for myself. I had to take personal responsibility in getting to know Jesus, and not depend on the faith of the spiritual giants in my life. On that day, I want to be able to recognise Jesus from far away. I want to know Him more than anyone else in the world.
As I thought about knowing Jesus personally, it dawned upon me that this entails a re-alignment of my brand of Christianity towards the Christianity that He has modelled for me. While Jesus was on earth, He was intimately acquainted with the outcasts of society and the poor in spirit. If He lived in modern-day Singapore, He would be seen talking with prostitutes along the back alleys of Geylang; He would be spending time praying with the lonely, old encik under the void deck. On the other hand, my first world Christianity has mollycoddled me inside a comfortable and familiar bubble; nothing is overly strenuous. However, it mandates in 2 Corinthians 5:15 (NLT), “He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.”
To quote James, “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world” (James 1:27 MSG). As we consider global issues and local social injustices, I hope that my brand of Christianity will be relevant; I don’t want to be trapped inside the bubble of first world Christianity. My prayer is for God to expand my horizon to be concerned about the staggering issues we are presently facing in the world, and to start praying for His hand to move mightily; I also want to explore opportunities to serve the poor and needy around me. All these are small steps in ridding myself of first world Christianity.
“Love is a movement,
Love is a revolution…
Get up, get up, love is moving you now.”
-Love is the Movement — Switchfoot
Love is a verb. Let us not keep Christianity within the confines of a cosy café or our immaculate churches; let us extend Christianity into the underbellies of society, the very places where Jesus Himself would undoubtably go.