Showing posts with label Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Africa. Show all posts


Africa! No! Not Africa!


It was a quiet day. I was a quiet evangelical man, doing my quiet evangelical duty: I was in the middle of my "quiet time" with God, something I did every morning, because that's what good evangelical men did.

I had dutifully read the appropriate chapter in the epistle I was working my way through, and had dutifully opened my journal to record my dutiful response when it happened.

God spoke.

"What would you do if I told you to go to Africa?"

I sat there, frozen; stunned.

First of all, God didn't speak to me. Didn't he know I was an evangelical?

But Africa? Don't be ridiculous. I hated Africa. It was filled with jungles and deserts and diseases and dirt. It was completely untidy.

Africa? Don't be ridiculous. What on earth would I do in Africa? I worked for a giant department store, selling fine china and luggage to wealthy residents of our community. I was painfully aware that these were skills that would not serve me well among lions and tigers and bears in Africa!

Africa? Don't be ridiculous. I had been taught - I had taught others - that God's direction always confirmed what was in your heart anyway. "He will give you the desires of your heart!" I had not one iota of desire for Africa.

But the question still hung there, in my soul, resonating. It had only been that "still small voice" that everybody talked about, but nobody (among my tidy evangelical friends) ever actually heard. The fact that the voice wasn't actually spoken into a marble cathedral did nothing to still its startling echo in my soul.

God asked me a question! Ohmigosh! WhatamIgoingtodo? (I had never known that it was possible to so completely panic while sitting quietly in my big "Papa chair" in a quiet house. This was a new experience.)

Ohmigosh! Ohmigosh! I have to answer him! Ohmigosh! What am I going to say?

It was (painfully, oh so painfully) clear to me that the one thing I could not say with any integrity was, "No, Lord." If nothing else, it's an oxymoron, but I was afraid if I told God "no" that I'd burn in heck for all eternity. (Dutiful evangelical men don't use that other, coarser word.) I couldn't say, "no."

But Oh! how I wanted to say no. I wanted to jump up on my comfortable chair, there in my comfortable living room, before I walked to my comfortable job in the comfortable store! I wanted to jump up and shout in God's face, "No! Not Africa! I won't go to Africa! You can't make me!"

But the problem was: he could make me. And besides, there's that "Lord" thing. You don't tell your Lord and King, "No." It's just not done. Especially, it's not done by dutiful evangelical men who dutifully tithe to their dutiful little churches.

I sat there, stewing in my own juices, until it was time to go to work, and I left God behind as I rushed out the door to go to work. I told myself that I needed to focus on selling fine Lenox and Wedgewood china, and fine Hartman leather luggage to fine local dowagers.

I didn't forget his question, try as I might. I very seldom pulled it out of the shadows and worked intentionally on it, but I knew it was always there, reverberating in my soul, waiting patiently for my submission, like a vulture waiting for me to die in the desert.

It took weeks, even months, for me to get fed up enough with the tension. One morning, I determined to face the cursed question head on. Let's do this! You’re going down, buddy!

I was out of bed before my alarm rang, teeth violently brushed, hair disheveled, and I slammed myself into that chair, and slammed my Bible and journal on the arm of the chair, and I addressed the One who had confronted me, me! with such an outlandish question!

His presence was there, and instantly, I cowered before him. A dutiful evangelical man does not get in God's face like that. What was I thinking?? It was all clear to me now. It was all over.

And as I cowered in my chair, alone in the dark room, I whimpered my submission. "OK, Lord. You win. I'll go wherever you send me. Even." I took a deep breath. I let it out slowly. "Even.." I shuddered. This was hard! You can do this! "Even.. . even Africa."

And now it all suddenly all relaxed. The pressure hadn’t been him, anyways. The war had never been with God; it had all been in my mind, and now it was gone.

But he wasn’t gone. I felt him waiting there, waiting for my attention. I gave it to him.

“Thank you.” I felt the words as much as heard them in my spirit. There was healing in his words.

“Thank you. Now go to Hawaii.”

And I kid you not: he sent us to live in Hawaii for a season.

And do you want to hear the funniest part? While we were living in Hawaii, a love for Africa began to grow inside me. And now I’m looking forward to the day that he really will send me to Africa.


Fixing the Gospel

There’s something wrong with the gospel.

Think about it for a minute: It used to be that when people declared the gospel, it “turned the world upside down.”

I live in North America. I don’t see any part of my homeland turned upside down by the gospel. I see parts of my society being heavily impacted by liberals or by conservatives in politics. I see a self-centeredness infecting a generation, and I see influxes of Islam, Hinduism (in several forms) and Deism, but I don’t see the gospel turning anything upside down.

There’s something wrong with the gospel.

But I hear reports from other continents and they’re amazing. Indonesia has more Muslims than any other nation in our little planet, and more persecution of Christians. It also seems to have more natural disasters than any other planet. But Indonesia is also home to a move of God that really is turning their world upside down. And have you heard the stories from Africa? They boggle my mind. I hear wonders from India, from Mongolia, from South America. The gospel is turning other places upside down.

But North America remains unchanged.

There’s something wrong with the gospel. No, there’s something wrong with our gospel.

I wonder if we preach the wrong gospel. We preach the gospel of salvation. Jesus and the apostles preached the gospel of the Kingdom.

They taught, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It’s in reach. Then they healed the sick to demonstrate. They cast out demons. Once in a while, they’d raise someone from the dead for variety.

The people they raised from the dead were certainly convinced that the gospel was real. The lives of those-formerly-known-as-lepers were transformed: these former outcasts were suddenly productive members of society and they had a following, a following that was listening to them talk about Jesus.

We preach the gospel of salvation. We have special Easter services where we bait the hook of the gospel of salvation with pop music and a “culturally relevant” message, and we invite the world to come look at our bait. We preach a “You need Jesus” message and everybody closes their eyes while some raise their hands – or not – and we never see them again. Once in a while, someone is changed, but mostly, they’re just immunized from the Gospel of the Kingdom. “I already did that!” they tell the next Christian they encounter.

And North America remains unchanged.

When Jesus modeled the gospel, he went to where the people were. He proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom, and he healed their sick.

Then he taught the boys to do what He did. Go to where they are. Proclaim the Kingdom. Heal the sick.

I have to admit: that this model scares me. It’s much easier to wait for the fish to swim into my church, and to give them a low-fat gospel that requires nothing more than to raise their hand when nobody’s looking. It doesn’t require me to look stupid, though, and so I and my brethren by the millions have chosen this pattern.

We’ve been scared to death by the risk that Jesus has asked of us, and as a result we really are pretty much dead. We’re safe, but we’re not alive. I’m not alive.

And North America remains unchanged.

When Jesus commissioned us as He left, he gave us the same model: Go. Preach. Heal.

(OK, He actually said “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons and raise the dead,” but it all fits under the general category of “heal.”)

We don’t usually go to the people. We don’t go to the fish, we advertise for the fish to come to us. We don’t preach the gospel of the kingdom, most of us, and we don’t heal their sick.

And North America remains unchanged.

The reports I’ve heard out of Africa say that it’s the healing that capture people’s attention. A friend reported that he attended a church service there recently. A man got up and started his message by saying, “For these three days last month I was dead.” He had their complete and undivided attention for the rest of the day.

So I am repenting from my shallowness. I am repenting from preaching the gospel of salvation when I preached anything at all. I’ve started to embarrass myself by asking people if they want prayer. I’m not ready yet for the “Such as I have I give unto you” thing that Peter did, but I can at least pray for people who are sick or unclean, or have demons.

Maybe I’ll take my time before I raise the dead too. Except for me. I think I need to be raised from the dead first.

And maybe North America can be changed.

(If you’re interested, there’s a PowerPoint presentation of some of these thoughts here.)