Perspective: A Reflection on How We Perceive the World
by Jeff Ritchie
What is the center of your world? What is the place from where your thoughts, words, and actions radiate out? I have been thinking about this as an American Christian who is part of a ministry that connects people in our country with the church throughout the world.
As humans, the center of our individual worlds is usually defined by the people closest to us, the communities we inhabit, and the countries we live in. How we think about ourselves and the rest of the world is in large part defined by our center.
We get further perspective on the world by the messages we hear day in and day out. These messages may come to us unasked, as in the case of television, radio and internet commercials. They may come to us through our own choices – the stations we tune in, the social media we inhabit.
A third contributor to the perspective we have on life is more personal – our unique personality that comes from our genes, our formative influences and our individual patterns of interaction with the world around us.
Christ followers are no different from other human beings when it comes to how our perspective on life, on values and behaviors is formed. What is distinctive for Christ followers are the whats: what is the center around which we live, to which messages do we pay attention, and how wide are the boundaries of our community?
Centered on Christ, the Incarnation of God’s Love
Just a few weeks ago I saw a bold, public answer to the question, “What is your center?” I was in Harbin, a large city in Northeast China. In large red letters at the entrance of the 10,000 member Hallelujah Church I saw, “Shen ai shi ren,” or “God loves the people of the world.” Christ followers take as our starting point for how we view the world this truth: the love of God for all the people of the world, ourselves included. This word, recorded in Holy Scripture and supremely demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, is the message we come to over and over again to restore our perspective on life.
And it is not just the people of the world whom God loves; it is his whole creation. God made the heavens and the earth, and God is on a mission to redeem the object of his love by creating a new heaven and earth with Jesus Christ as the head over all things. Our identity, our center, our purpose comes from our embracing God’s love for ourselves and joining him in the great work of redemption.
Who Is My Neighbor?
When Christ and his kingdom are our center, we as Christ followers have a perspective on who constitutes our family and on who our neighbor is. A hymn written by a Scottish missionary who served in Ghana over fifty years ago, says it well:
"Neighbors are rich and poor, varied in color and race, neighbors are near and far.
These are the ones we should serve; these are the ones we should love; all are neighbors to us and you.”
--Tom Colvin, “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love,” stanzas 2,3
An example of the “neighbor who is far,” let me give an example that occurred when I was on that trip to China last month. North Korea had launched a missile and had also tested another nuclear bomb, which, they alleged, was a hydrogen bomb. Both actions violated previous agreements made by the government of that nation to limit their nuclear program. There resulted a concerted multi-national effort to impose more rigorous sanctions on that land.
Amidst the indignation over yet another violation on the part of the North Korean regime, some cautions were raised. Christians working in organizations involved in ministries of mercy in North Korea – feeding orphans, providing medicines to tuberculosis hospital, offering vocational opportunities for people with disabilities – were concerned that the sanctions being proposed might have the effect of making life worse for ordinary North Koreans without correspondingly impacting the sectors of society that were the intended targets. The perspective of personal involvement for Christ’s sake made a difference in how these sanctions were perceived. Fortunately, the voices that raised the humanitarian concerns were taken into consideration in the final form of the sanctions. God loves the people of North Korea. They too are our neighbors.
How Big is My Family?
Yet Christ followers from our cultures in the U.S. have an even closer connection with Christ followers who live in other lands, who come from other cultures. We are not simply neighbors; we are family. My traveling companion for three weeks in China and Korea is a friend of more than 30 years. Choon Lim and I have traveled to China together several times. The first time we went to China together he and his wife, Yenhee, taught me a song in Chinese that captures the perspective Christians have on the length and breadth of our family. In English, the key line is, “In Jesus we are one family, from now through eternity.” Choon and I sang that “family song” over and over again in China. We were one with our brothers and sisters there. Christ followers have a perspective that holds our localized perspectives and distinctive cultures secondary to our identity in Christ and to the call to participate together in his mission.
Yet paradoxically, our very oneness in Christ and in commitment to his mission even gives us a positive appreciation for our differences. Paul says that through the church, wisdom of God in its rich variety is being made known to the powers of this world (Ephesians 3:10). God’s wisdom has many facets. Some of these facets of the “Gospel jewel" may be perceived better by people from one culture, while other facets are better perceived by people of other cultures. It takes the whole church in the whole world to demonstrate the riches of God’s truth and love.
The photo above captures a moment in November of last year when brothers and sisters from churches on three continents all gathered in India to share insights into how we form new communities of Christ followers. We were attending a conference whose theme was “Making God’s Mission Our Mission.” From Brazil, the United States and India we had come to widen our experience of family, to hear the biblical message from three perspectives, and then to join God in his mission.
In real life it may seem easier, more natural, to hang out with “our own kind.” It may seem simpler to limit our world to something less than a God-sized world. But the rewards are great when we embrace the world as Christ sees it and join Christ followers from different walks of life, different cultures and communities to proclaim his love in word and deed. Living out of this perspective we gain the privilege of being the foretaste and sign of God’s intention for all humanity. Living out of this perspective we get to be involved in the greatest enterprise the world has ever known with a global “company of the committed.” Why settle for anything less?
Associate Director for Mission