Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Americanized Christianity -- Yuck! I want the real thing!

This morning, before the dragons (my children) arose from their slumber, I was finishing my morning quiet time by re-reading "The Calling" by Brother Andrew. There was a passage in the book that really struck me as almost prophetic. It referred to his first book, God's Smuggler, where he shared the story of how He served God by smuggling Bibles to the persecuted Christians behind the Iron Curtain. In it he said,

As grateful as I am for the success of God's Smuggler, one of the reasons for its success bothered me: Almost no one else had been doing what I did. Because I was one of the few people going to these places of great need, somebody wanted to put my story in a book.

But what would have happened if thousands of Christians at that time had been risking imprisonment to go to their suffering brothers and sisters behind the Iron Curtain? Probably a book would never have been written -- the story would have been common knowledge. But the church worldwide would have grown much stronger as a result. How I wish that so many Christians would stand up and go to where God needs them that nobody will want to write a book about it! Then you or I would never be famous, but at least we would be showing the world what real Christianity is. (The Unforgettable Story of the Man Who Discovered the Adventure of The Calling, c1996 Open Doors)

This quote just about sums up how I feel when people tell me how "special" we are because we have adopted children with disabilities. People find the story of our family so compelling for the same reason that so many millions have found Brother Andrew's compelling: its so unusual to hear about people who have really followed where God has tried to lead them -- or have even been able to hear the still, quiet whisper of God's voice over the political and entertainment culture that permeates the church in America.

About a year ago, I was troubled by a movie called "Facing the Giants" that was released by a church. It wasn't just that the movie looked like another flimsy evangelical church attempt at copying what Hollywood does, but it made me wonder, "What in the world is the church doing investing time, money and resources into making a movie?" And, how can an associate pastor have time to pastor a church and write/direct and star in a movie? Wanting to stay just this side of judgmental, I looked at the website. It was filled with pictures and info promoting the "actors" and "directors" and such -- certainly not promoting the gospel. And, of course, the lesson of the movie (which I have to admit I've never seen) seemed to be, "look what God can do for you!"

Is this really the vision that God has for how a church uses its resources? Should I be able to to go to a church's website and view its members acting like Hollywood actors and actresses and promoting themselves? I'm not saying that any of this is wrong, but is it the best?

Just say that that church had taken all those resources and put them into building a community center for their city, or a shelter or a soup kitchen or bought new curriculum for their schools. Then used their acting gifts to organize plays for the community, help with the local school's theatrical productions. Instead of using money for costumes, say it used the money to clothe under privileged children.... maybe they wouldn't be famous, but maybe their community would have a real example of what Christianity is.

However, we're living in a culture where even our Christianity has come to mean how Christ can serve us rather than how we can serve Christ. It's funny, because, as a culture, we are so caught up in ourselves and our stuff, that we instantly assume that it would be more exciting for a church to make a movie than to open a soup kitchen. It's funny because, I know from experience its not true.

The more we seek to serve Christ, and the more we are willing to enter into the sufferings of his creation (something we've been conditioned to run away from!), the closer we are to Him. I've seen this over and over again in our family.

Just over a month ago I sat in Children's Hospital holding my daughter as she sobbed over the losses inherent to her physical disabilities and the pain involved in hip surgery. As I sat on the bed trying my best to hug such a small person who was covered in a body cast and hooked up with all the requisite wires that come after surgery, I felt the peace, presence and sovereignty of God in a way that was almost tangible enough to touch. It's a tiny sacrifice for me to suffer through her losses with her when I compare it to the absolute jewel of experiencing God in such a way.

So, I'm not saying that God isn't in a movie (even one about football -- I mean, come on, FOOTBALL???), but I am saying that you can just talk about God or you can experience Him. But you're not going to experience Him until you choose to listen and follow Him to the place you're needed, and usually that place is not going to be a place where people want your bio and picture on their website. Unless, of course, that's what God calls you to!

I think that one of the things like I like about Brother Andrew is that he describes himself as "dumb dutchman that works for a Jewish carpenter." He understands that it doesn't take "someone special" to do something unselfish (in fact, over the years we've found that our adoptions were the best things that could've happened to us). All it takes is someone to be willing. Someone willing to leave the comfortable and take on the suffering of another. The complete opposite of looking for what God can do for you. The complete opposite of the "pursuit of happiness."

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