There has never been a more critically important moment for the Christian church. All professing believers must begin expressing love, compassion and conviction through consistent life practices. By the power of God, we must increase our compassionate care and outreach. How can this positive moral influence actually spread and bring about positive change on a national or global level? We need to discover the tipping point.
The tipping point is a term used by scientists who study the spread of disease to refer to events or circumstances that cause a virus or other disease to “tip” out of equilibrium and begin spreading in epidemic proportions. Journalist Malcom Gladwell, in his fascinating book titled The Tipping Point, explores how this same phenomenon also can account for a wide variety of social changes. Gladwell writes, “The best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the ebb and flow of crime waves… or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”
In our current climate of moral decay and ideological relativism, a“tipping point” principle might be applied to promoting a resurgence of absolutes, so I want to focus on three key factors that Gladwell identifies:
- Small changes can produce big results.
- Changes at the margins can have a significant effect.
- The efforts of a few key individuals can tip widespread changes.
Small changes can produce big results. An intriguing and important component of the tipping point equation is that relatively small changes can produce disproportionately big results. It’s also possible, and often true, that big changes produce meager results. What makes the difference is how close the situation is to the tipping point, and how well focused the changes are. So, for example, a company might pour millions of dollars into a marketing campaign for its product and achieve only a small increase in sales, but if a few “connected” individuals start using the product, or if a few key “mavens” promote the product to the friends and acquaintances, sales could explode virtually overnight. Often it takes a series of small changes or the culmination of several factors to tip a situation into an epidemic.
Changes at the margins can have a significant effect. Sometimes we are tempted to confront problems head-on in an effort to turn the tide. But a full frontal assault – in physical warfare as well as spiritual warfare – is not always the best strategy. Gladwell talks about how the New York City Transit Police successfully reduced the crime rate by turning their primary attention away from confronting major crime in the subways and focusing instead on cleaning up graffiti and prosecuting fare-jumpers. By addressing these two seemingly marginal issues, they changed the atmosphere on the subway, which helped to tip the situation, leading to a dramatic decline in crime. They key is to focus on contextual factors to counteract the idea that ”nobody cares.” By changing the perception in parts of the world that we don’t care – through focused applications of genuine, heartfelt, godly love – there’s no telling what a positive impact we could have on our society and the world. They key to the tipping point is to make the changes that will have the biggest effect.
The efforts of a few key individuals can tip widespread changes. It isn’t always visible and established leaders who bring about major changes. More often, the words and actions of a few key individuals will trigger the tipping point. Jesus said to His disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Christians have a unique opportunity – in fact, it is a mandate from Jesus Himself – to be a light in the darkness. Regardless of how much our “progressive” society may seek to marginalize Christians and their influence, we have the potential to tip widespread positive changes by releasing the power of God in our world. But first we must stop trying to make spiritual clones of ourselves and just start loving people. We must stop just preaching to the choir and start reaching into our communities with care and compassion. We must stop infighting over doctrinal differences and start outfighting our common enemy – the forces of evil – through unity in the Spirit; through focused, deliberate, persistent prayer and focused, deliberate, persistent action.
To accomplish our purpose here on earth, it’s going to take a change of heart. In that sense, the ultimate tipping point is repentance. It is the mechanism that puts genuine change into action in our lives and in our culture. It is what will enable us to move beyond the past – and all of the mistakes of the past – and into the future with bright hopes and new dreams. Repentance is the fulcrum upon which cultural transformation hinges. Without repentance, we will never secure enduring freedom.
Repentance is a decision of the will to open the floodgates and release the transforming power of God. It is a change of mind and heart that produces undeniable changes in our habits and actions and in how we respond to people around us. Repentance moves us in a whole new direction that impacts life. Wherever the river of life flows, life springs up. Like trees planted along a river, the outgrowth of repentance is life and fruitfulness.
I live for the day when I open my mouth and the heart of God flows out. After all, isn’t that what Jesus said – that if we believed in Him out of our “innermost begin shall flow rivers of living water?” But if what we say and what we do are corrupted by our own selfish ambition, our own sin, or any motive that doesn’t reflect the pure heart of God, then the water that flows out of our lives is just as unclean, just as sickening, just as useless for life as any polluted stream. It’s time we tested the water of our lives – and if it isn’t pure and holy, then we need to repent.
Repentance is not reform. It is not regret. It is not religion. Repentance is deeper. It involves a change of heart. When we have a genuine change of heart and decide to adopt a redemptive mind-set, we must be willing to invest ourselves in caring for other people, in setting people free from that which binds them, and in making something good from otherwise bad situations. Redemption literally means to buy something back, often from a harmful or detrimental situation. Implicit in the idea of buying something back is the necessity of investing something of value. Until we repent as a nation, we cannot redeem our society.
The answers to our nation’s and the world’s needs and our continuing hope for the future will be found first and foremost in the hearts and minds of people, not in more laws or the promises and plans of governments. Conservatives and liberals alike must repent of the idea that we can solve our problems by skillfully combining incentives and disincentives, or by artfully devising political solutions. The pathway to a better future will not be established by enacting the right bills, electing the right politicians, reclaiming the right legacies, initiating the right reforms, or restoring the right priorities. Genuine cultural solutions can only emerge when people are willing to commit themselves to upholding absolute principles and are willing to turn away from everything that stands in the way. In other words, it will only be accomplished by a work of repentance and redemption in individual hearts and minds.
The clearest example of true repentance is revealed in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. In this story I see some connections to the current state of our nation. As a nation, I believe we are somewhere on the road between the father’s estate and the pigpen – with the very real possibility of experiencing serious pain and deprivation. We still have our freedom, but we have placed it in jeopardy through our choices as a society.
The privileges afforded us in a free society can easily be abused. Such is the nature of freedom. But when we base our attitudes and our actions on our right to do what we please rather than on the character to do what is right and what is best, we are in trouble. When we improperly define freedom as “my right to do whatever I choose” and then defend the most despicable practices, we make ourselves vulnerable to all manner of evil.
If Americais to remain a genuinely free, prosperous and civil society, we must adopt an attitude of genuine repentance. Freedom’s only hope for the future lies in our ability to recognize the dangerous drift of our culture toward relativism and selfishness, and then our willingness to turn from the error of our ways and acknowledge and adhere to the absolutes. Unless we re-engage with these timeless, rock-solid principles, our future is dim.
If the absolutes that are essential for freedom’s survival do not become the basic influence that shapes our decisions and actions, the freedom as we have known it will vanish — not only in the United States, but ultimately from the earth.
The only safe foundation is built onthe absolute principles on which every stable society can securely stand. In repentance, we will acknowledge that God is the unshakable center of the universe, the Creator of all life, and the source of our well-being. In repentance, we will discover an abundance of life that will help us secure our enduring freedom.
Adapted from James Robison’s book The Absolutes, available in the books & CDs section.