May 30, 2011
Continuing my series on “living as a missionary in a small, southern town”, today I am going to focus on myths related to the Bible-belt.
Have you ever had the opportunity to share the gospel with someone who has never heard it before? It is exhilarating! Let me share something with you that may surprise you: There are people living in the Bible belt who have never heard the gospel. Are you surprised? I was when I first discovered this. I thought everyone in the south had heard the gospel so many times they were weary of it. I learned differently one day when I got the opportunity to witness to a friend in town. After simply sharing about Christ’s death and resurrection and what it means to me, I asked him if he had ever heard that before. My friend thought for a minute, and then said, “No, I sure haven’t Andy. But it really makes sense!”
I still think about those words to this day. My friend had never heard the gospel? How many others might be living nearby who have never heard?
Besides those who’ve never heard the gospel, who live in the supposed “Bible-belt”, there is a whole other issue to deal with. There are many who think they know the gospel, but really don’t. In my experience, this is the most challenging issue facing missionaries in the southern United States. People think they have Jesus, that they understand the Bible, but oftentimes all they’ve really got is a watered down placebo wrapped in fancy packaging. These types think knowing Jesus means being an official members of a church (even though they only go a couple of times a year), that they walked forward at some altar call as a kid, that they believe in God, and that they are trying to get to heaven by being good.
This scenario creates numerous difficulties for those living as missionaries in the south. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that everyone thinks “they’ve got it” already — “don’t witness to me, I’ve heard all that before, I’m alright.” People think they’ve already got the cure and that nothing is wrong, never mind the fact that these supposed Christians bear no fruit in their lives. And so, the missionary’s first task is often to convince people that they actually do not know Christ. Before they can come to the Master Physician, they must first realize that they need a cure. Their spiritually terminal disease called sin cannot be numbed by religion, and popping feel-good Tylenol won’t help either. People need to know that apart from Christ they are spiritually hopeless and dying. Bandaids won’t work, what they need is an emergency heart-transplant. And getting people to realize this is the real challenge, living as they do in a supermarket of spiritual-antidotes, each claiming to be the miracle cure.
And then there is another major problem in the “Bible-belt.” While fewer and fewer people are involved in any church, sadly many of the churches that people do attend are preaching false doctrines. I’m not just talking about the cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons (and yes, there are plenty of these in the “Bible-belt”). Rather, many churches are preaching things like, “This country is God’s country”; “You can have your best life now”; “God wants you to be filthy rich”; “Just have faith and you’ll be happy and healthy and rich”; “Christians must follow this list of rules to please God.” Many who attend church in the South are hearing such things preached on a weekly basis, and it would be better if they did not attend than to fill their minds with such teaching. Sadly, however, many continue listening and believing such teachings, thinking that the Bible supports such notions.
At this point, you might find yourself questioning whether these things are really that prevalent in the South. All I can say is that on a weekly basis I bump shoulders in town with avid church-goers who talk about these doctrines. For example, at my job I hear many, many, many customers saying with 100 percent seriousness that they are waiting for their million dollars, that they expect to wake up in perfect health, and talking with each other about other similar issues.
So, in summary we might say that living as a missionary in the south will often mean dealing with two kinds of people. First, be ready and excited about sharing the gospel with those who have never heard the gospel. And second, be ready to confront various belief systems that claim to be Christian. And remember, the “Bible-belt” is an area in need of people willing to live as full-time missionaries. Are you willing to be one of them?
May 30, 2011
My friend ERIC has written an excellent article entitled “excess or adoration” in which he questions when it is ok for Christians and churches to buy expensive gifts as lavish expressions of Christ’s love. Eric writes,
So my question is this — is there room for material signs of worship? Think of the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. What is it her critics cried — shouldn’t you have given that to the poor! Oh, and that lone critic was Judas. . . . I think most of the modern critique of Churches is fair — I’m just trying to make sure I’m not in the company of Judas if someone really is worshipping God with a right heart.
So, why not read Eric’s post and let him know what you think.
May 29, 2011
Have you ever had to confront an unbeliever over a spiritual issue? If so, what was your attitude? Paul offers clear instructions about how to go about confronting unbelievers. Rather than being obnoxious, belligerent, or just plain annoying, Paul commands:
correcting those in opposition with gentleness , if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:25-26).
So, Paul hopes unbelievers: (1) will be corrected; (2) will repent; (3) will escape the devil’s clutches; (4) will stop doing the devil’s work. Despite the bleak situation of this person needing correction, Paul instructs that correction should be done with gentleness.
With this in mind, I saw a video this week that illustrates what Paul was NOT talking about. Click HERE to watch the short video where Bart Ehrman is confronted on TV. Rather than having a spirit of gentleness, the interviewer is just plain annoying. I doubt Ehrman would be drawn to the truth by the attitude of his confronter. Rather, he may simply be repulsed even further. I’m reminded in watching this video of Paul’s instructions; when we are presented with opportunities where we must confront unbelievers, let us do so in gentleness.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes.
May 29, 2011
I pass along this video hoping that you will enjoy laughing as much as I did
May 25, 2011
In my last post on “living as a missionary in a small southern town” I focused on the poverty factor. In this post we will focus on the “wealth factor,” so to speak.
3. Reaching the Rich
In order to effectively reach the wealthy in the small southern town where I’m living, one of the first hurdles to overcome is busyness. People are just plain busy. Oftentimes both parents work full-time jobs and the kids are in school all day. So, when families find themselves with a free evening, they want to be home and spending quality time together. The last thing they want to do is spend time with some strange “missionary” seeking to build “gospel relationships.”
Now, I’m assuming that families are spending time together. Honestly, I really don’t know what they are doing because I rarely see neighbors. My wife and I walk just about every day through the surrounding neighborhoods. We walk at different times of the day, and we rarely ever see anyone outside. We have invited neighbors over for meals, only to have our invitations go unanswered. “Hermits” might be an appropriate description of the hurdle I’m describing.
All this to say that building meaningful relationships can prove to be quite a challenge. Don’t give up on your neighbors. I’ve found that focusing my efforts on my immediate next-door-neighbors has been very rewarding. We have developed quite a camaraderie with the families on both sides of our home. In fact, this evening we will be grilling out together (you would never guess what we will be cooking. Don’t ask, I’m warning you). We are still open to reaching other neighbors, but we see our immediate neighbors the most, and focus our attention and prayers on them.
But don’t just limit your efforts to your neighbors. If at all possible, try to get a job in your small town. This opens more opportunities than perhaps anything else you will do. My wife and I both have jobs in town, and so this has provided us with numerous opportunities, both with coworkers and with customers. I’ll be honest with you, it is a nice feeling to be able to go to Wal-Mart in town (or most anywhere in town) and to be able to say hi to a few acquaintances. Now, I know that not everyone will be able to work in their small town. But don’t overlook a part-time job, or even volunteer opportunities. I’ve found that working in the community in which you live gives you an immediate credibility among locals. I’ve often heard people complain that small southern towns look down on outsiders, and I’ve often wondered if the outsiders tried to work or find a job in town. There’s just something about working in the community where you live, it opens up doors and softens the “locals” towards you, even giving you a measure of respect among them: “Oh yeah, that’s Andy from the bank.”
Finally, consider getting involved in a local community organization in addition to your local church, or consider having friends from church join you in this. I’m finding that in Louisburg, the community clubs are often the heart and soul of people’s relational networks. In my town it is the Moose club; join it as soon as you can, and you will meet families of all ages.
May 23, 2011
Continuing my new series about living as a missionary in a small southern town, today I want to discuss reaching the poor.
2. The Poverty Factor
In Louisburg, as in other small towns, a large segment of the population is living in relative poverty. Effective missionaries will be aware of this and will try to reach out to the poor with an attitude of compassion. Doing so, however, can be quite a challenge. Working as a banker for the past 3 1/2 years has given me the opportunity to observe and interact with the poor from a unique perspective. From my experience at the bank, it seems that many if not most of the poor receive government assistance, including monthly financial support, food stamps, health-coverage, and money to pay their heat bills in the winter. Not always, but sometimes this can create an attitude of entitlement; the church is viewed as a sort of miniature government assistance program that will help pay utility bills, hand out food, and provide clothing — all with no obligation or committment from the recipients.
I think, therefore, that a ministry to the poor in a small southern town requires a great deal of wisdom, and even a measure of tough-love. Let me give you an example. Perhaps the church does a disservice to the poor if all we do is give them food at our food-pantries and share the gospel with those interested. In doing so, the church might possibly be encouraging those who do not work to remain idle. What would happen if instead we told them we would feed them as part of an intense mentoring program? So, for instance, we could provide them with generous groceries, and at the same time teach about biblical stewardship, a biblical work-ethic, generosity, etc. Then, the church could provide practical ways for them to implement what they’ve just been taught by assigning tasks around the building and around the community to work for the food they have just received. Some might clean the church’s building, some might maintain the grounds, others might do service projects in the community. And when all is said and done, those who partook of the church’s generosity have also received biblical instruction and practical opportunities to apply what they have just learned.
If such is not done, the church runs the risk of fostering an entitlement mentality, and of helping people to ignore Scripture’s clear teaching about work. And, even worse, the church runs the risk of failing to use its resources in the best ways possible. By that I mean that we might be helping those in our communities whom our culture classifies as poor, but in doing so, failing to reach those who were desperately poor around the world. For, those whom our culture classifies as poor often still drive nice cars and live quite comfortably, while those in other countries who are poor often have nothing. The monthly income of our poor often far exceeds the yearly income of the poor around the world. The poor in our country often get three meals a day; the poor around the world try to survive on three meals a week. So, are we making the best use of our resources by giving away food to our neighbors, without instilling biblical principles about finances and money at the same time?
Effective missionaries in small southern towns will have hearts of compassion for the poor, and at the same time an awareness of the issues and struggles of the poor. Overcoming the poverty factor will mean teaching about a biblical work-ethic, confronting an entitlement mentality, as well as a great deal of love and compassion and generosity on our parts.
There have been a lot of reactions to yesterday’s doomsday prediction. I think this whole scenario offers us a great learning experience in hermeneutics (hermeneutics is simply a fancy term for how to properly interpret Scripture). The following offers some thoughts about lessons we students of God’s word can take away from this:
- The May-21-Movement (be sure to read their WEBSITE) had a carefully developed, systematized, well crafted, logical way of interpreting and reading Scripture. I strongly urge you to browse their website and follow their argumentation. They clearly walk readers through their method of arriving at their May 21st date. On their web-site, they state that their method of interpreting the Bible is to systematically align Scripture with Scripture. As to how they arrived at May 21, click HERE. They genuinely attempt to rest all of their conclusions on Scripture. They succinctly responded to objections in their argument by pointing to scripture. Everything about their argument was backed by Scripture.
- They were passionately convinced about their position. They were so sure of their conclusions that they were willing to “go public” with them and risk their reputations, ministries, and even their life-savings to get the word out.
- They were terribly wrong. After scanning their website, I feel a strong twinge of remorse and pity for them. All of their wrong literature is still available, you can still order bumper stickers and listen to sermons and order their books. At the top of the website is a countdown-clock reading “0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes.”
What can we take away from this:
- We as believers all hold to carefully developed systems that we have arrived at after careful study of Scripture. We have poured over the pages of Scripture, only arriving at conclusions after years of study.
- We are passionate about these issues, and utterly convinced that we are right.
- Some of us are so passionate about these biblical systems that we have honestly made them our “hills to die on”, just as the May-21-Movement did with theirs.
- In light of this, we should be willing on a regular basis to scrutinize any and every aspect of our theology, and never arrive at the point where we think we have it all figured out.
- We are all wrong about certain aspects of our Theology. Think about it, no one has arrived with the perfect system.
- We should hold to our positions with an attitude of humility, willing at any point to be corrected, to learn, and to admit that we might be wrong.
- There is little room for bombastic language, such as “The Bible can’t be interpreted to say anything other than [insert your system here].”
- Be careful of making any secondary issue in Scripture your primary issue. And be careful also, because most people feel so strongly about certain secondary issues that, in their minds, they classify them as primary issues.
May 22, 2011
I can still remember how I felt when I first heard that believers in other countries were coming as missionaries to the States. My first thought: That means that in some way we as Christians in the States are failing to reach our own culture. My second thought: Why don’t I live like a missionary every day? Does being a missionary mean I must live in some foreign land, or is it possible to be a missionary right at home? And then I thought about the mindset of those who were coming to the States to serve as missionaries, whose sole purpose is to tell people about Jesus. They have left their homes, families, careers, moved to this strange country and learned our difficult language. For them, each trip to Food Lion is an opportunity to share the gospel, each walk in the neighborhood is a chance to meet neighbors, each breakfast at Bojangles is a cross-cultural experience. In short, the insight that such missionaries were living in my neck of the woods was a stinging revelation that filled me with a measure of guilt. Such news showed me that in some way other I had failed, believers and churches across the country had failed, to reach my own neighbors and communities and cities. For if we had effectively lived as missionaries in our own culture then Christians from other lands would not have needed to come and help us reach our communities. Yes, I was both challenged and reminded to begin living as a missionary right here and now. I want it never to be said that someone else had to finish the job that I could not or would not do, or that I so consistently failed to share the gospel that someone from another country had to come and do it in my place.
So in the next couple of days I plan on sharing a couple insights about living as a missionary in one’s local community. Since I live in a small, southern town, some of these may be peculiar to my own unique setting. What follows will be a series of posts related to this topic.
- Eat where the locals eat
In Louisburg, this will mean eating breakfast biscuits at Bojangles and at the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. There is a lot of interaction that goes on at the biscuit joints in the mornings. In the Fall (during hunting season), men sip coffee and chat about their hunting adventures as their hunting dogs wait outside in the pick-up trucks. Throughout the year, the biscuit/breakfast joints are THE place to eat, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, socialize, and get to know the locals. I guess on some mission fields you might eat fermented cabbage or raw duck, and on others you might eat greasy bacon-biscuits.
May 20, 2011
Hannah-Joy has posted some great thoughts about the dangers of legalism. Quoting Beth Moore, she writes:
Legalism–more than any other, that one little word is probably responsible for causing more churches to die, more servants to quit, and more denominations to split, Like a leech, legalism saps the lifeblood out of its victim. It enters the door in the name of righteousness to vacuum out all the dirt and ends up vacuuming out all the spirit. Don’t confuse legalism with recognition and pursuit of godly standards” (pages 88-89). To that list I would add: legalism gives Christians a bad name. All too often lost people see legalism and link it with Christianity. They see a list of do’s and don’ts a mile long and say, “I want none of that.” Unfortunately all too often they see a legalistic “religious” person instead of a sincere believer expressing their life changing relationship with Christ.
Read her full post HERE.
May 20, 2011
I’ve been riding my bike to work for a while now. I simply refuse to pay for gas when I could get some exercise and save a few bucks. Interestingly, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapil Hill region was ranked as the area in the country paying the most in gas prices. Drivers here in my neck of the woods are paying an average of $4,200 a year for gas and driving 23,000 miles a year. It looks like a lot more people need to join me on their bicycles!