Next week, I'll make my first visit of 2017 to my local gym. I dread that visit.
I don't dread it for the reasons you might think. Actually, I've been faithful with daily exercise through the holidays (though I can't say the same for diet. But who can at Christmas?) I will pretty much hate going to the gym until around the end of March, because from now until then, the "New Year's Resolution crowd" will be blocking my access to the elliptical, the pool, the nautilus, and pretty much anything else I want access to.
I dread going to the gym tomorrow because it's the New Year, and I know there will be a million people there. Why? Because too many of them make a New Year's Resolution to "lose weight" or "get in better shape" and truly believe they will be able to do it in a matter of weeks. Most will be gone by the end of February.
Its that time again for people to start making good on the promises they made to themselves on New Year's Eve. Some want to lose weight. Others want their hair back. Still others want to start a different career path, further educate themselves, or improve a significant relationship.
With all that is going on it our world at present, I have a suggestion for those who follow Christ--a New Year's resolution that could, quite literally, change the world. Here it is:
For 2017, I resolve to be less isolationist and more incarnational.
From the time that I was a child, I remember hearing warnings about "hanging out with the wrong people." To be sure, there is wisdom--especially in one's youth--about choosing one's close friends carefully. But too often, that wisdom can devolve into a lifestyle of living in a bubble. When that happens, you end up spending all your time reading "Christian" books, going only to "Christian" movies, going to a "Christian" school, and living your life in a way that makes every conversation happen in an echo chamber.
This doesn't just produce an ineffective disciple. It results in a disobedient life. Jesus didn't just stand on the precipice of heaven and preach a sermon while refusing to get his hands dirty. Christians just celebrated a season that observes how God wrapped Himself in human flesh and lived among us.
The Gospel itself is a testament to the fact that Jesus intentionally and strategically invests His life among those who are in no way like Him. And then, post-resurrection, He says this to His disciples:
"As the Father has sent me, so also do I send you."
In short, following Jesus means that we employ the same incarnational approach that He did. Conversely, it means that isolationism from the world He died to save--refusing to befriend and invest your life in others who are not like you, don't share your religious, political, or cultural views, bear a different skin color, live on a different socioeconomic level--isn't just wrong. Isolationism is antiChrist.
However, true incarnation doesn't involve minimizing differences, or compromising or diluting the faith until there is little of it left that is recognizable. On the contrary, true incarnation is the counter-cultural presence of God. That's precisely what the life of Jesus involved, and its precisely what we as His followers are called to do. Some have mistakenly viewed isolation and syncretism as opposites. The truth is that both share much more in common when it comes to their common, anti-Gospel roots. Compromise on the clarity of the Gospel obscures the person and work of Jesus and is also antiChrist.
And antiChrist behavior will yield antiChrist results. Isolation breeds ignorance, racism, xenophobia, cultural superiority, and number of other conditions that mar the image of God. Conversely, Gospel incarnation breeds familiarity, fairness, clarity, and respect for every human being.
Isolation breeds war.
Syncretism breeds an uneasy detente.
Incarnation breeds peace.
Take a look around. I think we could use some peace. And as I survey the current cultural landscape that includes jihadists among us, continued racial division, and a political climate that has us poised for near-civil war, I think followers of Jesus may be the only people capable of bringing that peace.
But the art of peacemaking is, by default, the art of intentionally entering a world of conflict, and loving that divided world with the very affections displayed by Jesus on the cross as He bleeds on their behalf.
So that's my top resolution this year. How about you? Are you willing to walk across the street--or across the political isle--or across the tracks, and live intentionally in relationship with those different from you? Will you love your neighbor of a different political party during what promises to be a divisive election season? Will you love your neighbor of a different race? Different religion? That's what its going to take, if you want to truly live like Jesus.
Peace is a tall order in any context. But the Gospel is powerful enough to bring it, and Gospel people are the only ones commissioned to take it. Let's resolve that 2017 be the year followers of Christ committed to less isolation, and more incarnation.