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Do Not Conform

Christian Basics - Do not conform to this world's standards

A man dies and finds himself standing in front of those famous pearly gates. He rings the bell and St Peter comes out to greet him, but looks puzzled. "I’m sorry, we weren’t actually expecting anyone right at this moment. Hang on a second while I check the paperwork – there’ll be a delivery docket somewhere."

So off goes St Peter and the man is left twiddling his thumbs.

Then he notices a party going on in a nearby cloud. There’s a really good 70’s tribute band playing, glasses are clinking and people are laughing, dancing and having a really good time.

"I wonder where that is?" he thinks. "Suppose it can’t be heaven, but they’re having far too much fun for it to be… the other place."

Just then, St Peter reappears. "I’m ever so sorry, but I can’t find the right piece of paper. If you don’t mind waiting a little longer I’ll have another look."

So off he goes again, and the man is left looking at what’s going on in the nearby cloud. The party is in full swing now and the band are playing Abba songs. That is just too much, and he makes his mind up. Taking a few steps back he runs forward and leaps towards the cloud…. And falls through it, down and down and down and ….. he lands slap bang in front of the devil.

It’s boiling hot and the flames are shooting up all around him, and the devil has got that nasty grin on his face.

"Welcome… to hell!"

"Hang on!" screams the man. "I didn’t want to come here, there was this really happy party going on…and….abba were playing… and..... "

"Ah," replies the devil. "I see you’ve come across our marketing department."

I want you to imagine yourself living a different lifestyle to the one you currently enjoy (or not) in a country many miles from here. I want you to try and guess where you are.

You are young, in your late teens, live in a country that is very prosperous and you work for ‘the company’. Loyalty to the company is essential despite the low pay and working conditions. The company do not tolerate troublemakers and have acted swiftly to stamp out trade union involvement. Its workers are about the largest group of minimum wage earners in the country.

The job that you do is unskilled, as are almost all the jobs within the company. This is a deliberate policy, because if the company do not have to train you, then you are easily replaced

Such is the power of the company that an estimated 1 in 8 workers in the country have worked for them, and they regularly hire and possibly fire 1 million workers each year.

Where do you think I am?

They control with absolute and ruthless efficiency the raw materials that are used within their end products, and conditions for the producers at the start of the supply chain can be very tough. Many go bankrupt each year as the company squeezes every last ounce of profit from that which they produce.

The company’s owners and directors, of course, do not go short of cash. They are immensely wealthy.

The company owns more retail property in the world than any other, and together with one or two competitors are able to influence the political leadership of the country to suppress laws that might endanger their business interests and profits.

Any ideas?

The corporate symbol used to represent the company is more widely recognised worldwide than the Christian cross.

It has its own university called ‘Hamburger University’ where you can obtain a degree in Hamburgerology, which promotes a common language and a common culture.

It gives generously to charity and is involved heavily with education programmes.

A character on the web site at one time told children that Ronald McDonald was the ultimate authority on everything.

Interesting statistic:

Every month about 90% of U.S. children between 3-9 visit a McDonalds.

And why?

Well, one reason might be seen in the tie-in between McDonalds and the Disney Corporation. In the eyes of the company parents take kids to Disney because they want to be seen to love their kids. Now, by going to McDonalds they can get a bit of Disney magic. The unspoken message in the adverts is that taking your child to McDonalds gives the parent "An easy way to feel like a good parent."

Are you squirming a little?

But what’s all the fuss about?

Well, I could mention the fact that such companies in the U.S. control almost all Beef and Poultry production in that country and thus have enormous power. You will only grow what the company wants and you will deliver it when they want it at the price they dictate. They seem to operate in a similar manner in every country they enter. I could of course look at other companies like Microsoft who want control of the computer software that goes into every PC in the world, or media companies like Time Warner or News International who control so much of the news that we see on our TVs or in our newspapers.

It is called globalisation.

Wherever we look, lives and culture are being by the impact of the global aspirations of these and other multinational companies, and McDonalds are just the very visible symbol of how this is happening because of the Golden Arches. When the Berlin Wall came down, what was the first symbol of democracy to appear? You guessed, the golden arches.

All across the world the golden arches symbolise this rise of conformity, because that’s what it is, making everything the same.

And what is being sold to the world? In essence "The American lifestyle and Dream"

In a Beijing primary school the kids said that they liked Ronald McDonald because he was "funny, gentle, kind and….understood children’s hearts."

The man who brought McDonalds to Japan 30 years ago once promised his countrymen "If we eat McDonalds hamburgers and potatoes for a thousand years, we will become taller, our skin will become white, and our hair will be blonde."

So what’s all this to do with Christianity? Why should we be in the least bit worried about the business plans of McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, McCains, Microsoft and the like?

Mic 7:3 "Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire – they all conspire together."

Tom Sine, the Christian writer has made a living out warning Christians about the rise of McWorld as it has been called, and how the values of McWorld are anything but Christian.

It boils down to heart values. What are the heart values that lie at the core of our faith, and how do the corporate values of Ronald McDonald and his friends stand up to scrutiny?

How do our ideals stack up against Ronald’s?

Let’s look to the future. For McWorld the future is in further global expansion (spreading and selling the idea around the world) and the economies of scale and influence that this will bring.

Bringing the good news to the entire world that every country, and every person can begin to feel a part of the success of the West by living the life. And it’s working. These guys could sell ice to Eskimos.

It’s happening here, in fact it’s been happening for some years. Go into any major town or city in the UK and you’ll find the same retail outlets selling the same clothes and the same electrical goods, and the same fast food joints serving the same burgers, in fact the same everything. Cities around the world are queuing to be included in the Dream and the big companies are happy to oblige.

Wherever you travel in the world you will see the symbols of McWorld rising above every town and city, transforming the way people live, making them feel a part of "The Dream", to believe it and live it and encourage others to participate in it.

This is all happening as barriers are being broken down between countries encouraging the movement of people, trade, capital and ideas. And this is leading increasingly to a single world order dominated by the capitalism and lifestyle of the west.

It has little to do with individual rights, and everything to do with economic power, materialism, individuality, and conformity.

Remember the old Coca Cola advert "I’m going to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony….."?

In a nutshell that line sums up what McWorld is all about.

And the politicians are singing its praises

So if I’m trying to say that there’s something wrong here, despite the fact that millions of people throughout the world are quite happy supporting Ronald McDonald and his friends, is there another way that the world should be going?

Oh yes!

In 1999 Nelson Mandela said this "Is globalisation only to benefit the powerful and the financiers, speculators, investors and traders? Does it offer nothing to the men, women and children ravaged by the violence of poverty?"

Amos 5:24 "But let justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry."

Rom 12:2 "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will."

A recent UK Labour Government came into power on the back of a commitment to "A third way" whatever that might be - an alternative that was better than the other two ways presumably. Well, let me introduce you to another way

"God’s way"

It’s well documented what happens when mankind goes its own way.

Romans 1:28 "Since these people refused even to think about God, he let their useless minds rule over them. That’s why they do all sorts of indecent things. They are evil, wicked, and greedy, as well as mean in every possible way. They want what others have, and they murder, argue, cheat, and are hard to get along with. They gossip, say cruel things about others, and hate God. They are proud, conceited, and boastful, always thinking up new ways to do evil."

Mark 7:20 "Then Jesus said: 'What comes from your heart is what makes you unclean. Out of your heart come evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, greed, meanness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride, and foolishness.'"

Do you see how it’s all about Self? Look at the world out there, and with only a few exceptions you will find that most people’s lives are 'self-centred'. It is this self-centredness that has fuelled the rise of globalisation. There’s nothing in basic human nature that can relate to what could be described as normal Christian life.

By way of contrast Christians are called not to be self-centred but God-centred in their thinking and actions, and how does Paul see this happening?

Rom 12:2 "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

And how does this renewal happen? It happens through the love of God and the willingness of people to open their hearts to the possibility and challenge of change.

Titus 3:3 "We used to be stupid, disobedient, and foolish, as well as slaves of all sorts of desires and pleasures. We were evil and jealous. Everyone hated us, and we hated everyone. God our Saviour showed us how good and kind he is. He saved us because of his mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done. God washed us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gave us new birth and a fresh beginning. God sent Jesus Christ our Saviour to give us his Spirit. Jesus treated us much better than we deserve. He made us acceptable to God and gave us the hope of eternal life."

The agent of renewal is God through the action of His Holy Spirit, and the effect of this renewal is spectacular.

It brings knowledge of God’s will. Back to Romans 2 "Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will"

It brings peace and reassurance in a world that seems to be heading anywhere but in the direction that pleases God. Phil 4:7 "Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with a peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel."

It leads to a renewed way of living. Rom 8:5 "People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. (There you are, 'self' again) Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace".

The agent of change and renewal in individuals is God through His Spirit. But the agents of change in this world are you and I.

For the Christian the future lies not in the encouragement of globalisation, of the spread of greed and envy and injustice, much as we might like our Big Mac. It lies instead in the spread of God’s love and peace and joy and hope through individuals living their faith in the world and influencing the world. In the transformation of individual lives and nations under the banner of God’s Grace. That's the only global movement that God wants.

And that means rejoicing in the richness and diversity of human beings throughout the world, not trying to make all of mankind a mirror image of the west. Just as God created all the colours of a rainbow or a butterflies wings so he created people to be different, to be individuals, to be unique. He looked at all he had created and was pleased – he was chuffed to bits with the way it had turned out. Then, of course, man wanted a bit of the action and it all went downhill.

Isaiah 10 "You people are in for trouble! You have made cruel and unfair laws that let you cheat the poor and needy and rob widows and orphans. But what will you do when you are fiercely attacked and punished by foreigners? Where will you run for help? Where will you hide your valuables? How will you escape being captured or killed? The Lord is still angry, and he isn’t through with you yet!"

Change, if it’s going to happen (and I'm not alone in thinking it needs to happen quickly) will come not through the established Church, because that has already become infected by the culture within which it sits. In order to be seen to be culturally relevant, the Church is tempted to feel that it has to reflect those values, and that’s certainly not what Jesus was about.

Change will come (using Tom Sine’s analogy) through a mustard seed - the small and the insignificant when compared with the forces that are at work in the world. Through people like you and I getting our priorities right and putting God first in all that we do.

If we, as the people of God were to live our lives as if we were living in the Kingdom of God rather than getting sucked into the world’s way of doing things; if our lives were God-centred instead of self-centred then the world will have to sit up and take notice.

God is calling us to be subversive, to be agents of change. We are not called to separate ourselves from the world but to work from within it, working for renewal. John 17:15 "Father, I don’t ask you to take my followers out of the world, but keep them safe from the evil one. They don’t belong to this world, and neither do I. Your word is the truth. So let this truth make them completely yours. I am sending them into the world, just as you sent me. I have given myself completely for their sake, so that they may belong completely to the truth"

2 Cor 10:3 "We live in this world, but we don’t act like its people or fight our battles with the weapons of this world. Instead, we use God’s power that can destroy fortresses."

The world believes in globalisation, in the new world order, in the spread of the western lifestyle and values throughout the four corners of the world. Christianity says "Look at those values and ask yourself the question 'Are those values benefiting the poor and weak or the rich and powerful? Are they to do with justice or injustice? Do they rejoice in the diversity of cultures within the world or seek conformity? Are they self-centred or God-centred?"'

Of course, we can always sit back and enjoy the ride…. But I’m not sure I like the way that it’s going, and I’m not sure that God does either. I see no evidence in the bible that profit and power at the expense of justice and freedom are part of His will for mankind. I see no evidence that God wants all of the diversity of his creation to be moulded into the image that a few businessmen and politicians have created.

I see need for change, and change starts with you and it starts with me and it starts with individual Christians all over the world who are seeing the dangers and are prepared to get off their backsides and do something about it - get involved.

There was once a wealthy Texan who invited a group of guests round to his huge ranch for a party. As they are standing round the swimming pool he points out to them that there is a shark swimming in it. Then he says, "I'll give a million dollars or the hand of my beautiful daughter in marriage to the man who dares to swim one length of that pool."

Immediately there is a splash, and he turns round to see a man in the pool swimming with all his might towards the far end. He just makes the other side before the shark, and scrambles up onto the path. The Texan rushes round to congratulate him. "Well, my friend," he says. "Which is it to be, the million dollars or the hand of my daughter?"

"All I want," the man muttered breathlessly, "Is the name of the guy who pushed me in!"

Change starts with little stones being thrown into a big pond. The odd one doesn't make much impression, but when people all around the pond start throwing stones then gradually the ripples meet and blend together and become something that's impossible not to notice.

Matthew 5:13 "You are like salt for everyone on earth. But if salt no longer tastes like salt, how can it make food salty? All it is good for is to be thrown out and walked on. You are like light for the whole world. A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot. A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house. Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven."

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