Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Audacity of American Christianity...

I have been floored (another word for convicted) by the state of Christianity in America. This is not something recent, I have felt this way for quite some time. No, I don't feel this way because of some report I read chronicling the decline of the church. I also do not feel this way because I have read a book that has told me what I "ought" to think. I feel as I do because of what I have observed with my eyes and because I seek to correctly discern the times in which I live. I feel this way also because I have studied the Gospel of Jesus Christ and do not see an overwhelming resemblance between American Christianity and the scriptural model provided. With that understanding, I am disturbed by the audacity of American Christianity for several reasons. First, I often wonder why the majority of Christians' walk does not seem to match their talk. They will utter words that sound like they are right on target with the Gospel, living for Jesus, but their walk will be just the opposite. This is concerning on many different levels. It causes alarms to go off in this pastor's heart regarding those who profess a salvation in Christ but produce no resulting change in lifestyle. It is totally incomprehensible to me that when the God of all creation brings salvation into a life that the person will not be radically changed. If a gospel has so little power that a sinner is not changed by it so that they continually grow in their reflection of Christ, it must not be the Gospel that is taught in Scripture. So, first, I am alarmed because I see so little life-change transpiring in American Christianity.

Second, I am concerned because my eyes have been opened to a growing level of self-indulgent Christianity in America. The main goal in coming to worship is not about glorifying God, but rather it seems to be about getting temporal needs met. We do not seek Him out of a poverty of self; we seek Him out of an overflowing wealth of self-sufficiency. There is so little dependency upon God that one must truly ask if we really even need “another god" in our lives at all. His is the "bit" part in the movie of our lives where we have cast ourselves as the star. So, for this reason and others, lost America is asking "who needs God, especially your God?" Why would they need conversion when their life and those who profess Christ look so similar? It is incongruent that God desires dependency and reliance upon Him from His children and yet continue to bless lives overflowing with self-indulgence.

Third, I fear the reproach that comes with ignoring the plight of the poor who live around us. I have been convicted lately that we in America have so very much and yet we give so very little. Yes, it is true that 20% or less of church members give 80% or more of the money needed to fund the work of the Lord in the local church. We have so much and yet we spend the money only on that which supports our ostentatious lifestyles. While preaching this past Sunday I stated that "most people in this world could live a better life if they just lived off of the garbage we throw away in the dumpster weekly." I am convicted by my own statement; I am also alarmed that most were not.

What is going to happen to the Church in America? Only God ultimately knows, but I have an idea what will happen if revival tarries. If there is not a turning back to the Lord in the form of a great spiritual awakening we can expect God's absolute removal of His hand of blessing on our nation (some would say this has already happened). We can expect our self-sufficiency tried, tested and ultimately proven a failure. We can expect our self-indulgence to cease because there will be a reversal of fortune like never before in the world. We can expect to join the ranks of those we barely tolerate who have so little and are among the poor in America. We are at a crossroads. We are at a turning point. We are at a fork in the road and God is watching to see the path we will take. The audacity of American Christianity... where will it end?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hiking Out of the Jungle...

Our last day in the jungles of Ecuador centered upon the hike out of the Huaorani village back to civilization… now that’s a relative term. Our civilization was a bunk at UMPES, the jungle camp where we had begun. It was also a hot shower – thank the Lord for modern conveniences. Every one of us at this point was ready for a hot shower, a bar of soap and a mattress. (Missions pastor Jason Johnson, with a tasty treat!)

We left Kakatarro in shifts Thursday morning. The first shift left at 6:45, second at 7:00 and third at 7:15. We gathered early for our final breakfast with the Huaorani’s and to drop off our packs for transport out. The mode of transportation was the Indians who had volunteered to guide us out of the jungle. I will never forget Gallo, the young Huaorani Indian who was so interested in the English language, packed and loaded for the journey. He had one pack on his back and was wearing another one in reverse on his chest. He looked like a sandwich board advertising that these Americans are too wimpy to carry their packs out of the jungle. I’m not sure if he thought that or not, but I confess that’s how I was feeling when I saw him lugging two packs.

I walked in the third group with Missionary Steve Thompson and two other men from our team. Behind me was Chief Gabriel’s wife. No, she was not carrying my pack. A young Quichua man carried my pack (no pregnant woman or child, thankfully). The day before, I had acquired a short walking stick to be used on my journey. I was ready, bring on the jungle.

At 7:15 we hit the trail by first crossing the river by the camp that had been so swollen upon our entrance that a canoe had been required. Today it was only to our knees; so much for having dry boots and socks for the trail. We hiked up the first hill – why is it that first hills always seem the hardest? Soon we were on the trail deep within the jungle, surrounded by singing jungle birds and overgrown trees so tall and wide. It had not rained the entire time we were at Kakatarro, but when we awoke at 5:00 on departure day, we could hear the rumbling of thunder and the rain hitting the roof of the school house where we slept. It had not rained much so we still were hoping for a minimum of slipping and sliding when we started. That hope soon vanished when the mud began to cling to our soggy boots once again, making the steep hills and sharp descents very difficult.

We had walked about 30 minutes when we caught up with the group that had left at 6:45. They were taking the steep hills slowly and we had been walking briskly. We passed them and moved on through the jungle. I was hot on the heels of Steve, determined he would not leave me behind like he did on the trial coming in. (No, I didn't take this picture of the Ocelot on the trail. I took it in the jungle zoo I talked about on day 1. Same for the Toucan below.)

Soon I adopted my familiar modus operandi of slipping and falling in the mud. The short walking stick I was utilizing kept getting shorter because I was breaking it off in 6” pieces along the trail. Every time I would fall I would hear the Chief’s wife snicker and giggle behind me. She never fell. Perhaps it was because she was strong enough to whip most men on the trip and could definitely outrun us all. Maybe it was because I hiked in hunting boots with big soles designed for traction, while she walked barefooted and could feel every root under her feet for a good grip. Whatever the reason, she never fell and she chuckled every time I did. I am glad I could brighten her day with some comic relief. She must have grew tired of laughing at this big American walking with this ever-shortening stick in his hands because after I fell at one point she tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a 6 foot walking stick that had substance. No way was I breaking that bad boy. It was a blessing and she laughed less. Just fun in the jungle!

After we had walked for about 2 hours, caught and passed the second group from our team, it started to rain. Not a West Texas drizzle, a true rainforest rain of huge drops. Back home we call this a flood. In the jungle it was probably a shower. The rain felt so wonderful and it actually made hiking easier. In just minutes the hard rain was running in torrents down our trail washing all of the loose sediment/mud away and providing a firmer footing. What we had dreaded had turned out to be a blessing. It cooled us off and made walking easier. I loved every minute of it!

What I soon realized was that the rivers we crossed coming in that were knee deep would quickly swell much deeper if we didn’t get out of the jungle soon. Again and again we crossed water above our knees until we came to our final crossing of the day. What was a small creek when there was no rain had become a raging river. The Indians had us wait so they could escort us across one at a time. The water at this crossing was easily at my waist. For the group that was 35 minutes behind us the water had risen to chest high. Thankfully, the last group made it out while they could still keep their head above water... barely.

My hike out of the jungle took 3:45; substantially faster than the 5:15 hike into Kakatarro. All the hikers were out of the woods by 12:30 PM and we headed back to the produce truck to say good-bye to our Huaorani friends.

We thought we’d be back to UMPES by 3:00 but our final challenge still lay ahead. When we reached the final river we needed to drive across, what had been a large stream was now no less than 50’ across and flowing at full force. There was no way we were crossing at that moment so we hunkered down to wait. And we waited… And we waited… And we waited some more. All total, we waited for 5-6 hours to cross the river and it was still 3 feet deep. But God provided and got us across. We were headed home. (James with an 8' python.)

Ecuador was truly fantastic and a life-changing mission trip for sure! I met some brothers and sisters in Christ that I will possibly not see again until we are around God’s throne in Heaven. I also learned the necessity of speaking the language in a foreign country. Before I return to Ecuador I will spend some time with the Spanish language in an effort to communicate more effectively. Finally, I will forever treasure the joy of teaching in a church without walls while sitting in the middle of the Amazon jungle. God is good! He protected and provided for every need we had. It was a great mission trip and I cannot wait to do it again.

If you have never been on a mission trip and want your life to change – pray about where God can use you and jump in with both feet. It will be one of the most spiritually rewarding experiences of your life and you will never be the same.

God bless and thanks for reading!