A hopeful, Bible-believing Christian in 1985 could anticipate these achievements on the mission field:
1. Celebrating a New Testament, published in another language for the first time.
2. Reading that New Testament with people who have recently become literate.
3. Enjoying the first cup of truly drinkable water a faraway village has ever had.
4. Sharing incredible experiences with family and friends that they’ll never have.
5. Praying with our newborn Christian friends for the Lord’s protection from neighboring tribesmen, germs, regional governments, the local shaman and his disciples, western media, a UN agency, our few remaining supporters who think we’re not operating cost- effectively, our mission agency, who now says it’s too dangerous for us to stay, family members who are tired of worrying about us getting kidnapped.
6. And maybe, martyrdom and walking into the arms of our Savior, who says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Instead, the church of the roaring ‘80s pushed aside the Lord’s command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Christian-published superstars said, “Stay home. Focus on you. Get right with yourself first. Overcome your insecurities. Manage your addictions. Discover your significance.”
Thirty years later, are we saner, more emotionally fulfilled? Are we more financially secure? Existentially secure? (Well, yes, except now we’re hoarding gold, food and firearms.) Are our marriage and family relationships as dynamic as we dreamed they’d be the week before we got married?
Are our kids more intelligent and committed to God? (Yes, they are tattooed with crosses and fishes.) Have we transformed, by the power of our salt and light, our extended families, neighborhoods, work places, schools, communities, country?
No. Instead we pursued secular success, ostensibly to send money to the mission field. It didn’t actually go there, but now our church has a fabulous sound system and an unrivalled youth program.
For all our indignant rage toward Hollywood, we never learned that the media was a problem and a symptom in itself. We insist on being endlessly amused.
While we vented our every frustration and personal trauma to shrinks and accountability groups (all of whom adored the titillating details), we avoided the mirror of Scripture. That wouldn’t let us off the hook.
We kept faith with the public schools. But our kids would have learned more about modesty and sexual morality living amongst semi-naked tribal people. College became public schools on steroids.
We got over our inhibitions and are now freed up to raise our hands and repeat the same few lines of “praise,” to the same three guitar chords over and over and over…
We studied how to pray. But we pray less than ever. And every other word is “just.”
We set aside truth and embraced spirituality divorced from truth.
We got into severe spiritual disciplines, but for some reason, we’re still hopelessly self-indulgent.
Like Hezekiah showing off his treasures and armaments to the Babylonians, we display countless books, tracts, CDs, notes from seminars, sermons, prayer meetings and conferences, all of which were designed to better ground us in the Word. But the Word got left out. Or worse: paraphrased. So, the enemy invasion became inevitable.
We had it all back then. The money, resources, opportunity and calling. The world was our oyster. Instead, we sautéed the oyster, had the pearl set in an expensive gold setting and bragged about how Jesus rewards us in this life, too. Thus, the American Dream prevailed.
We had the chance to go. But calmer voices prevailed. They told us what we wanted to hear; that we didn’t really have to make all those sacrifices. We could carry on our proud traditions and that would bring in the Millennial kingdom.
Sadly, we abrogated our duty because: “There is no way my wife and kids will let me take them to a third world hovel! They don’t have pizza.”
Good thing the greats of church history didn’t reason that way. Tell William Carrey about the impact of mission work on a wife. And tell Elizabeth Elliott that her first husband threw his life away and was reckless with his young family’s safety. God still raises up great men and women. They just don’t have a prayer for support in our church culture.
What haven’t you done for Christ? What, now, is so important that you’ll hang onto it no matter what and still say, “No way.”
So, here we are in Laodicea. What do we do now? (Pssst… repent… come out from among them. He’s standing at the door, knocking!)