Malcolm Gladwell, in 2000, debuted his first book entitled The Tipping Point. In that book, Gladwell defines the tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate.” The tipping point is that moment of critical mass, the threshold of something new, or dare I say, the boiling point.
The boiling point might not be a good metaphor to employ as we celebrate 239 years as a nation. I was listening to a podcast from a church researcher this week who stated that sociologically we have seen more cultural change in the past two years than we have in the previous 200 years. We know change creates anxiety, and the rapid rate of change over the past two years has left us with no little amount of anxiety, even in the church. I confess my own anxiety as a pastor who leads a congregation, knowing that our congregations can hold as equally diverse opinions on social issues, political issues and theological issues as the broader population at large. And, I am pastor to everyone, and I want to be pastor to everyone. We hold in tension the diversity for the sake of the unity of the body of Christ. May I say, it’s a daunting task.
So, what do we do in these changing times? How do we deal with such great diversity? How do we respond in this culture that seems to be so divided? May I offer this advice: Praise God.
That’s exactly what the psalmist did in Psalm 33. Psalm 33 is a hymn of praise to God that celebrates God’s righteous character, creative power and sovereignty. These are all God’s qualities that make Him the only reliable foundation for hope and trust. With this psalm, the psalmist sets the tone of worship and reverence for the people of God, and we would do well to note that reverence in the face of changing and challenging times, whether as a nation, as a church, or as individuals who are facing our own transitions in life, that God is where our hope lies. Our praise must reflect our reverence for God, our dependence upon God, and our hope in God.
Sometimes I think we’ve lost a bit of reverence for God. Verse 18 says, “But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him.” The word “fear” in the Bible means “to tremble.” It is used in connection with 3 experiences: 1) To tremble with the thought of being punished by a holy God for our sins, 2) To tremble at the sight of the mighty acts of God, and 3) To tremble with joy at the knowledge that people were being saved. Fear in this sense is simple reverence.
One of the cultural shifts that gives me greatest concern is the growing lack of respect we see. We see a lack of respect for our leaders. We see a lack of respect for the diversity of one another’s opinions. Name-calling and hateful speech show an utter lack of respect. I’m doing a Facebook fast for the simple reason that I became tired of scrolling through my news feed only to encounter post after post of disparaging comments and articles aimed at destroying the humanity of others. It’s not limited to for/against. The name calling and hateful speech comes from both directions. I remind us all that Christ died for all people, and our Methodist doctrine teaches us that all persons are persons of sacred worth. I fear our lack of respect for one another finds its roots in our lack of respect and reverence for God.
We have sought to bring God down to our level. We like to refer to him as “the Man upstairs,” or the “guy in the sky.” It’s almost impossible to have reverence and respect for Jesus when you want him to wear a tuxedo t-shirt! The psalmist reminds us that praise exalts God to the proper place. The Bible says He is the Holy One—El Shaddi (Almighty One)—Alpha and Omega—Creator of the Universe—Everlasting Father. Jesus will always be my Savior. Jesus will be my Lord. Jesus will be a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus will always be King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but he is not now, nor will he ever be my “homeboy.” That is simply too irreverent a reference for the one who saved me and sustains me.
I love the way Jude closes his short letter with deep reverence: “To the only God and Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forever more! Amen.” The Hebrews would not even pronounce the name of God, but in our culture we’ve developed short-hand for our irreverence—OMG! Yes, I’m guilty! That, too, points to my own need of God’s grace. We’re all in need of God’s grace in our lives. That ought to be a reminder to us to be patient with those with whom we disagree. Respect for others means we can disagree without being disagreeable. I believe our respect for one another will come as we reclaim our reverence for God.
Yes, I know that won’t end all the name-calling and such, and yes, I know it makes me sound like a stodgy old fool, but let’s start there and see where it leads us. You never know. It just might raise the level of our conversation.
Until next time, keep looking up…
 Podcast, Rainer on Leadership, “How Church Culture Changes,” www.thomrainer.com, July 2, 2015.