Back Home Again
"Home, home on the range...." Yep, pardners. I am BACK! How can I possibly describe my trip? It was magnificent in every way. It was filled with blessing upon blessing. The Lord opened door after door for ministry. Praise His name! I want to say THANK YOU to those who prayed for us while we were gone. God heard your prayers! I also want to thank our many friends and co-workers in Ethiopia who labored side-by-side with us. You are simply marvelous! More than ever I've become convinced of doing missions local church to local church, bypassing bloated bureaucracies (sorry about the alliteration, but once a Baptist always a Baptist LOL). And more than ever I've become gravely concerned about the spiritual condition of the Western church in light of the enormous needs in other parts of the world. I fervently love my brothers and sisters in America, but at the same time I'm deeply grieved over our fascination with material prosperity and personal pleasure. Going to Ethiopia is a reality check. Many of the believers there have next to nothing yet I have never seen such simple faith, humility, and love. To be sure, not all Ethiopians are kingdom Christians. They are just as susceptible as we are to half-hearted Christianity. The Scriptures that speak of the cross -- discipline, sacrifice, suffering -- seem unbelievably impossible to many of us today. Authentic Christianity has become distorted by a works-less faith. I thank God for the many faithful servants of the Most High God I have met both at home and in Africa who have rejected this false notion. It the coming days Becky and I will be sharing with you some of the great things that God is doing through them. It is all the Lord's doing and nothing for which we can take any credit. Day after day we witnessed His power expressed through countless acts of selfless service.
Looking back now over the past 10 years I praise God for allowing Becky and me to reprioritize our values and lifestyle. I thank Him for the many churches in America that are committed to the Lord Jesus and His Great Commission. At the same time I am saddened that the bountiful provisions of our culture have left us blinded to the situation in the sin-blighted Majority World. Frankly, I return to America deeply concerned, asking myself how we can possibly spend $35,000 on Lifeway Sunday School materials (as one church I know does) when the same amount of money could build simple churches in 5 villages in rural Ethiopia. I recently heard of one American congregation with a "living Christmas tree" whose scaffolding alone cost the church more than $25,000. "I am not to judge these churches," I tell myself. But the inequity stuns me. How much longer will the evangelical church in America remain disconnected from the rest of the world? Unless you travel outside of North America you cannot possibly appreciate the needs that exist in places like Africa and Asia -- two continents I visit frequently. I look at the United States with our Christian theme parks and our Christian magazines and our Christian retreat centers and our Christian TV stations and our Christian "Praisercize" and our Christian rock concerts and our gymnasiums and our air-conditioned sanctuaries and I have to ask myself -- what is all of this for? Why aren't we sacrificing for the Gospel in the inner cities in our country and in the lost regions of the world?
I believe it is the deceitfulness of sin that keeps us from forsaking our Western cultural values that so directly contradict the lifestyle that our Lord Jesus commands. We modern Christians have divorced faith and works. Our concept of missions has been reduced to fundraising. But missions is not the money we give but the life we live. Missions, for me, has become simply an extension of my life. I believe this will be the case with every Christian who truly believes in the Great Commission. Jesus asks us to make missions the central passion of our lives. This means that everything we do as Christians -- gathering, singing, fellowshipping, teaching, admonishing -- must be done with one thing in mind: expanding the kingdom of God by reaching lost men and women wherever they live. Since when has selfless love become optional for the Christian? We need to repent of the self-centered Christianity that characterizes the modern American church today. A couple of years ago I sat in a new church sanctuary in North America. It was one of the most inefficient and oversized buildings I have ever been in. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions in light of the pressing needs in the Majority World. How can we possibly justify such extravagance in view of the Scriptural teaching about wealth and equality (2 Cor. 8-9)?
Our churches have become little more than bless me clubs. We even spoil our youth when we should be exposing them to service opportunities both in America and internationally. Youth leaders have fallen victim to a bigger and better mentality. Our youth do not need more emotional rallies. They are called to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ in the midst of a fallen world. The church in America is becoming more and more dependent on shortcuts, gimmicks, seminars, strategies, demographics, experts, and man-centered solutions to our problems. Whatever happened to the simple teachings of Jesus and the apostles? The Great Commission does not require us to attend classes on evangelism. It requires us to wait patiently on the Lord, whose Spirit will certainly equip and empower us to be effective witnesses wherever we are. How easy it is for us to make decisions and plans without prayer and waiting for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must stop trusting in our missionary methods. Even the greatest manmade methods are but shallow reflections of the great principles of God's Word. Tragically, we have fallen in love with the latest fads and church growth strategies.
I, for one, have had quite enough of it. I am ready to become a kingdom Christian. I am ready to work with every Bible-believing, cross-carrying Jesus follower in Ethiopia and anywhere else in the world where God sends me.
Care to join me?
P.S. Becky arrives tomorrow afternoon. God has given her much strength during this trip. Everywhere we went the believers were thrilled to hear her testimony. Again, thank you for your prayers on our behalf. Glory be to God!
April 4, 2010
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.