Becoming Greek To The Greeks

Recently the mother of a young girl pointed me out to her daughter because they saw my picture in the local paper every week.  But when the little girl saw me she said,”But mommy, where’s his cowboy hat?”  I got a chuckle out of that, especially because a few years ago I never went anywhere without it.  In fact when I worked at Rafter Six Guest Ranch, just before I began pastoring, I wore the whole shebang every day.  I once walked into the Cochrane IGA with my spurs a–jingling not even realizing it till I noticed people looking at me a little funny.

That style suited my first church in South West Saskatchewan very well with all the ranch country down there.  It worked because I identified with the people in the church and community.  Most of my visitation involved some sort of ranch or farm activity.  I was at one of our folk’s ranch the one day and he introduced me to his neighbor who happened to be over.  “This is David. He’s the pastor from Golden Prairie.”  His neighbor responded, “Oh, what pasture do you manage?”  I laughed as I corrected him, especially because you could read the near panic in his eyes trying to remember if he’d said anything he now regretted.  Sunday mornings I wore my old fashioned riding britches, complete with leather suspenders, with the pantlegs tucked into my buckaroo styled cowboy boots (much to Wendy’s chagrin).

When we moved to Falkland in the interior of BC I wrongly assumed it would be the same.  The culture was different there and even though I came to realize that, I never made the effort to identify with that culture.  Not that I didn’t get involved in the community, and I untucked my pantlegs from my boots, but I still just kept trying to insert my own culture into theirs.  I never really identified myself with the local culture.

Paul said that when he was with the Greeks, he became Greek; when he was with the Jews he became Jewish.  He made the effort to identify with the local culture he was seeking to serve and express Jesus to.  In doing so he was saying, “You are worthwhile.  You are treasured.  You are worth knowing and understanding, and Jesus values you and wants a relationship with you too.”  Jesus doesn’t want to get rid of our cultural identity, he wants to transform it.

So now here in Benalto I wear a ball cap more often than a cowboy hat, and sometimes I even wear shorts (actually I always wear shorts when I’m coaching football).  But wherever I’m at and whoever I’m with I try to make the effort to identify with that person because they are valuable.  As a Jesus follower how do you relate to your neighbors?

About David Berg

I live in a small town in Alberta, Canada. I pastor a small Baptist church and also work half-time on a local seed farm. It has been more than 25 years that I have been married to a most amazing and beautiful lady whose name is Wendy. Together we have three boys, and two beautiful daughter-in-laws. View all posts by David Berg

3 responses to “Becoming Greek To The Greeks

  • Markus Lemke

    My relationship to my neighbors is in transition because of Jesus. I used to think that it was my responsibility to represent to them an ideal template of what a Christian should be. That did not work, for two important reasons:

    1) Because I will never be an ideal template of a Christian, (until I am dead), and therefore am bound to be at least somewhat, and obviously, phony if I make believe I am presenting an ideal -(and nobody likes a phony of any kind).

    2) Because that makes a relationship incredibly one-sided – how can you be a friend when your paramount focus is to point out by YOUR example how bad THEY are? I instinctively avoid killjoys whose main goal in life is to expose my limitations and shortcomings – why would I expect any different reaction from my friends and neighbors?

    Instead, I really like the way you put it – “wherever I’m at and whoever I’m with I try to make the effort to identify with that person because they are valuable” – full stop. Jesus found me valuable enough to befriend exactly the way I was. His love was irresistible, yet he let me fall in love with him. If I am willing to be just Markus, with all my shortcomings and flaws, with my friends, my attractiveness (debatable, but bear with me), is based on what it should be based – I am no longer afraid to be authentically me. Happily for me, “authentic me” includes that large measure of grace extended to me by my Jesus, who is now inextricably part of me. So, you get two for the price of one when you befriend Markus. On the flip side, if my friends can see my struggles and my mistakes, they know they can trust me.

    What’s really paradoxical about this for me is that I used to spend so much time trying to separate out all the “expected” Christian traits to put on display and hide the “rest” of me. It made me artificial, one-dimensional and uncomfortable for both me and whomever I was “targeting” my friendship. It’s one of the reasons I am not comfortable with concepts like “Entertainment With A Purpose”, when the purpose is to evangelize as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    I have found through happy accident that being a listening friend is more valuable, and more productive, and more eternally satisfying than being an evangelistic hunter-gatherer. Maybe we “church folk” trend towards the latter because we focus too much on the second part of Paul’s description of himself in relationship with others – he does say that he tries every means possible to identify with everyone (without falling into sin), so that he may share Christ. Don’t we tend to jump straight to the “share Christ” bit right away? Maybe because it is really too vulnerable, and too much work to go through the very natural and very human exercise of developing an authentic relationship first? I wonder why that is – after all, if we really believe and know that Christ is inextricably within us, and the source of all that is lovable, trustworthy and kind about ourselves, won’t he show up at exactly the right time and place in all our authentic relationships, with friends who already know him and friends who don’t just yet?

    Still learning this stuff. Thanks for putting a concise, valuable perspective on it again for me.


  • David Berg

    Markus you have furthered the thoughts and conversation beautifully!

  • Pam Marchesi

    Agreed: well said, Markus! The ability to ‘morph’ into one’s current environment is inherent and God-given, as is the grace to remain true to ones self. Feel blessed and give thanks for where you are today and for everyone around you.

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