Tuesday, June 30, 2020


This is not the first time in my life when the government told us we were locked down and not to go out of the house.


It was Sunday morning August 1, 1982, and, as was our custom as a family, we loaded into our four-wheel Land Cruiser and left early to travel into the bush to preach.  (In those days I preached in three different villages each Sunday, leaving the house around 8 a.m. and getting back home before dark at 7 p.m.)  We noticed that there were a lot of army vehicles on the road, but had no clue what was going on.  When we arrived at our first village, pastor Gichuki was shocked to see us.


“You need to return home immediately,” he said.  “There is a military coup taking place right now.  Return to your home and lock the gate and yourself in the house.” 


Arriving home an hour later, I tuned into the BBC radio as the Voice of Kenya had been taken over by the rebels.  Comparatively speaking, it was a minor uprising lasting only a week, with 100 soldiers killed and 200 civilians, including non-Kenyan’s.  It was nevertheless a tense moment that could have turned ugly and I, of course, was concerned for my wife and young daughters.


A military coup lockdown and COVID-19 lockdown both have similar and obvious dissimilar characteristics, but it all centers around the concept of CONTROL, POWER, FORCE and LEGITIMACY, which I cover in my class in cultural anthropology.


Richard Newbold Adams in Energy & Structure: A Theory of Social Power provides these definitions.


1) CONTROL is a NON-RECIPROCAL relationship in the sense that it exists between a person and some structure or system within the society which DEMANDS compliance.  In other words, we have no choice, we must acquiesce.  Kim Jong Un, the despot of North Korea, has total control over the people in his country. They don’t have a voice; they don’t have a vote.  The IRS is another example of control.  As a citizen of the United States, I cannot negotiate how much I want to pay in taxes.   I may look for ways to reduce my taxes through deductions, but I still have to pay taxes or the government will seize what I don’t want to pay.

2) POWER is a social relationship that rests on the basis of some pattern of controls and RECIPROCITY, i.e., a person or institution may have power over an individual, but it is within the judgment of that person if they will respond to that power based on their own needs.  The outcome is not total control but perhaps enough control to determine success or failure.  The question is, how much power do they have to control?


The pandemic lockdown instituted around the world is, for the most part, contrived by politicians.  They have power but some of them think, or would like to think, they have control over the nation/state/city, but in reality, they only have as much control as the people allow them to have.  In the beginning of the pandemic most people were willing to stay-in-place, but over time the population began to rebel against the power of the authorities.  Even as of this writing, some politicians would like to control the behavior of the population, mandating masks and delaying school openings, limiting crowds to beaches, going to church etc., because the cases of COVID is increasing…though the fatalities of the disease continues to decrease.


FORCE is the exercise of control, not power.  Force does not recognize reciprocal action.  The stronger the force, the more control.


As the rebels of Kenya tried to force their way into power, so, too, are some protestors in this country making an attempt to force their way to power and controlling the culture of the U.S.  The coup of 1982 failed and the cultural coup we are experiencing today will also fail, but not without causing long lasting damage.


LEGITIMACY is something (people or institution) that people agree that it is in some manner correct, proper, or the way it should be.


Gaining control through force does not automatically make it legitimate.  Even though Kim Jong Un has complete control in North Korea he is not considered legitimate by the rest of the world, except by other regimes lead by tyrants.  In democratic countries legitimacy is earned through the ballot box.  Every election cycle people of the society determine who is legitimate in making policy decisions and those who are not, and their grip on authority is as certain as shifting sand.


In the end, the Kenya coup of 1982 was quickly put down.  The reason for the defeat?  “The coup failed because most of the soldiers did not execute their parts of the plan, as they were drinking and looting instead of going to arrest the president and his ministers.”  The streets of Nairobi 38 years ago look a lot like the 2020 streets of Minneapolis and Seattle.


The struggle for control and power in this world continues, but it’s a futile exercise.  The real battle is behind the scenes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).  The arch-enemy of God is presently the god of this world (1 Corinthians 4:4) and plays havoc daily.  Nevertheless, only Christ Jesus has all rule and authority and power and dominion (Ephesians 1:21). The spiritual coup d’├ętat will one day end when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).


Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Culture of Fear and COVID-19

“Be afraid. Be VERY afraid.” Those words from actress Geena Davis in the 1986 horror film THE FLY, has been ringing in my ears since the COVID-19 task force was formed three months ago, the governors daily medical reports and the tiresome opinions and conflicting reports of pundits and epidemiologists. In previous posts I have written about cultures of Guilt and cultures of Shame. The focus today is the cultures of Fear.
Generally speaking, fear cultures are people who are animistic or spirit worshippers. Africans readily admit that their history of fear is the reason they continue to believe in witchdoctors. Because they are afraid of unseen spirits, which cause sickness, misfortune and death, they tie amulets on their arms or around their neck to ward off evil spirits and sprinkle the blood of animals around their houses for protection. In Tanzania witchdoctors still pay large sums of money for the body parts of albino children, as they feel they have particular power. Fear cultures have a marginal belief in science or medicine, they are moved by superstition and myth.
A quick overview on how people come to a belief system (philosophy, theology or worldview).
For secularists and most Western countries their confidence is in human achievement and science. Their equation for belief follows this pattern: Data + Testing = Fact or Hypothesis.
For theists (Christians, Muslims and Hindus), whose belief is in God, gods/goddesses their equation for belief is Holy Writing + Tradition = Theology.
For animists, historically illiterate with an oral tradition of storytelling, the equation for their belief system is Observation + Imagination = Myth.
Myth is not just an African animist thing, but can be found in every society, culture and people on earth. Follow the equation of animisim in Hinduism. Some guru in India declared that drinking cow urine is a cure or prophylactic for COVID-19 and so millions are trying it. Imagination, by the holy man, observation that some people recovered from the virus after drinking the urine, equals the myth that cow urine is a cure. You can apply that equation to everything from praying to Our Mother Guadalupe to repeating the ninety-nine names of Allah with the tasbih or prayer beads.
Before anyone jumps to conclusions, I am not denying the reality of the virus, its contagion or its potential danger for some portion of the population. However, the novelty of the novel coronavirus around the world is the pandemic of fear which has produced an avalanche of myth associated with the virus and how to defeat disease. The most striking phenomena are people who claim to be sophisticated, intelligent and educated who, in some ways are behaving as the Pokot bush people in Kenya. They say they believe in science but ignore their own data to perpetuate their narrative of fear.
Here are some statistics to consider. I live in the state of Arkansas with a population a bit over 3 million people. As of this writing, over 242,000 have been tested for COVID-19, 94% have come back negative. There have been 224 deaths, which means 0.0075% of our population have succumbed to this virus, fewer people than we will share air with on any given day at Walmart. The average age of those reported to have died of COVID-19 is 77.21 years old, the oldest being 107 years old and the youngest reported 25. People between the ages of 1 – 39 years old have 0.02% chance of dying from this disease; those between the age of 40 – 49 are 0.04% at risk of dying to COVID and those between 50 and 59 years old is 1.3%. In most, if not all cases, the fatalities are because people already have serious health issues.
It’s truly alarming that 224 people have died due to this disease, but did you know that in my state this year twice as many people, 548, have died in car accidents. Should we shut down the highways to protect the lives of further deaths on the road? Get this…there are more people in Arkansas who have died due to falls this year, 290, than COVID. How can we mitigate people who will die due to imbalance?
In spite of these statistics, many people in the world are gripped with the fear of coronavirus, and believe that if you test positive you have less than six weeks to live. Indeed, be afraid, really afraid if you are elderly with other medical issues, or you are obese, diabetic or have some other respiratory problem. But for the average normal person COVID is not a death sentence and if you get it, statistics bear out, you will survive, as you would with the flu.
Franklin D. Roosevelt understood the emotion of fear. In his first inaugural address, in the midst of the Great Depression, he stated, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS...FEAR ITSELF — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
I’m not sure what or who is behind the motivation for fear. Someone hypothesized that after the election the virus will go away. Maybe. In most things follow the money and you will find the answer. Certainly, hospitals, medical researchers are profiting from the fear, but they are just reaping the rewards of fear, not the cause. Is this some kind of judgment from God to an ungodly and evil population? I doubt it, but He certainly can work His sovereign will in the atmosphere of fear. Since the foundational fear is death, Jesus reminds us that we are not to fear that which can kill the body but the One who can destroy the soul (Matthew 28:10), but no one thinks much of that.
How then should we handle this fear of disease? Should we wear a mask, disinfect the surfaces in our home and businesses, wipe off cooties from our mail, stand six feet apart from each other? Since science, at this point, can’t tell us what really works, we follow the equation of the animists…Imagination + Observation = Myth. In the process we are killing our economy, dividing our communities and cower in fear. Since so many have given up on common sense, maybe we should just drink cow urine.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Shame, COVID 19 and Protests

If you take my class on Christianity in the Context of Culture, you will learn there are three dominant characteristics in certain cultures: FEAR looking for PEACE, GUILT seeking FORGIVENESS and SHAME searching for restoration of HONOR.
For the most part Americans are a Guilt/Forgiveness culture. Our laws are set up in a way that an offense is generally dealt with by a fine, community service or a jail sentence. Most American Christians seek forgiveness by confessing their guilt to a priest or direct prayer to God.
In many parts of the world, where the society is held together by religion, clan or caste, Shame is the dominant emotional cultural framework. In Shame/Honor societies, mostly in countries of east and south Asia, to break a code of honor can result in excommunication from the family and even death. “Honor killings” are not uncommon if a young man/woman marry outside their group without permission. To become a follower of Christ from a Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist background is to bring dishonor to the family, village and/or tribe, punishable by losing inheritance and decried as blasphemy, another offense worthy of death.
Americans are certainly NOT a shame culture. I would go so far to say that the twenty-first American culture is actually “shameless.” Whether it’s movies, television sitcoms, foul language in public, advertisement, music or just the way Americans dress to go to Walmart, we have become a shameless brazen population.
Not only are we shamelessness we have become a “shaming” society.” Pick the topic…politics, race relations, sexual orientation, religion - the debate ends where shaming begins. The “Karen’s” (my definition - a person who feels they are entitled to point out or report another who they feel is being inappropriate based on their own standards) are everywhere on social media.
Let’s take the issue of people wearing a mask, which the medical experts can’t decide if it’s a good idea or not. There was a person on my FaceBook page who said if you don’t wear a mask you are being disrespectful and, in his words, “an idiot.” Message? Shame on you if you don’t agree with his position on mitigating the virus.
Shaming is when you call out someone for being a conservative or liberal, that you are a homophobe if you believe marriage should be only be between a man and a woman, that you are narrow minded if you believe that there is no salvation under any other name than Christ (Acts 4:12) or that you are a bigot if you don’t feel the need to apologize that you were born white and "privileged". Because we are a guilt culture, the way to make us feel guilty is shaming. I am assuming that most of the protestors in the streets last week did so with proper indignation, but many others marched because they were shamed into it by their peers and those with a political agenda. Some felt compelled to kneel before the demands of BLM protestors. Such behavior is not showing respect to the protestors but cowering and pandering engendered by ridicule.
Shaming is a form of informal control and used by preachers (if you don’t tithe, come to church, etc., you are a weak Christian), by parents (you will never amount to anything because you are lazy and stupid kid), and politicians (if you don’t stay in your house and wear a mask you may be responsible for killing grandma).
Shaming others for their behavior are the way of the proud and arrogant. The religious rulers in the days of our Lord was big on shaming. They tried to shame Him for eating with “sinners,” (Levi the tax collector - Mark 2:16), and humiliated sinners caught in sin (the woman caught in adultery brought to Jesus - John 8:1-11). The Savior, though, did not condemn, in fact He said “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
The lesson for me looking at these three characteristics of culture and Scripture is that I am guilty, but through Christ I have forgiveness (1 John 1;9). I can feel shame for my sins, but through Christ, He has raised me to a position of honor (Colossians 3:1). No longer must I fear, because of Christ I have peace that is beyond human understanding (Philippians 4:7). Through the cross man is redeemed from shaming and shamelessness.

Monday, June 01, 2020


Listening to an interview on the news, a black American stated that many people in his community “feel like” they are cursed. They are routinely stopped by police, and called out by the Karen’s walking her dog, calling 911 because an African American asked her to leash her dog. The protests and riots which are nation is now engulfed is just another manifestation of a people who feel they are cursed. 
Are black people cursed? Yes. Not by God nor by Scripture but by a worldwide racist pandemic. I have travelled to over fifty countries and the things I have seen and heard, how the nations treat black people, is a testimony of the curse on blacks. In India I taught an exchange student from Kenya. Eating supper with his family I asked the question, “How do Indians treat you.” He hesitated, smiled and replied, “Not well. Of course, here at the seminary they are very kind. But whenever I go off campus the first thing Indians perceive me to be is low caste because of my dark skin. When they see my hair is different they realize that I am African and not always treated kindly.”
Without question how some people treat, what my dad use to describe as “colored people,” in this country is unforgiveable. But travel with me to Moscow and get on the metro when an African student boards and hear, as I have, the slurs that is thrown at them, which I won’t repeat in this post. Go with me to South America and witness the disdain they have for the African immigrants as being the laziest people in their country. I will not defend the bigots of our nation, but understand this is not a uniquely American problem. Indeed, Africans throughout the world are culturally cursed.
The Shulamite woman in the Song of Solomon said, “Do not gaze at me because I am dark,” not because she was in the lineage of Cush but because her work in the fields made her dark. In south Asia, skin lightening cream is a major beauty product, it’s the Shulamite woman affect. In Africa they describe their own as black or brown, brown being the preferred skin tone. Families in India searching a suitable groom for their daughters will describe her as “fair.” 
I have lived most of my adult life living and working in Africa. My kids grew up in Africa and I have one daughter presently working in West Africa. We have started schools, distributed food and clothing and shared the Gospel to those we have worked with. So, for me to say the black race is cursed is not out of the mouth of a bigot, but a sad reality of culture.
You would expect me to say the following, so I will. The root of today’s chaos of burning, looting and police brutality is not social, political or economic. The curse is not really the black man, but the black heart, which resides in every man and woman. It was Jeremiah who said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The black man is cursed and every white and non-white person is cursed because of sin that resides in every heart. Christ Jesus took the curse of every race on the Cross. 
I don’t expect racism to be eradicated in my life time. I don’t ever expect Haiti to get out of poverty no matter how many more billions of dollars we thrown at them. I will not walk in solidarity to the plight of those who feel injustice. It’s a futile effort. But what I can do is, like Philip, come alongside the Ethiopian and explain the words of Jerimiah who was reading, “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” When people understand this, the curse will be lifted.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Contextualization Versus Syncretism

In communicating the Gospel it is important to contextualize the message.  This would be true in every situation, whether one is speaking to an American audience or in Brazil.  Using theological verbiage like being “born-again” in Iowa might be understood by some, missed completely by a non-believer who comes to church for the first time. Certainly the phrase of being a born a second time would be confusing to a Hindu who believes in twelve thousand reincarnations.  Contextualization is an important element in presenting the message of Christ.

In Kenya, speaking to the Pokot cattle herders, I wouldn’t use Bible terms to describe Jesus as He is the Savior or that He died for their sins.  Those terms are church words, good words to be sure, but phrases they don’t get.  They don’t have a concept of sin, though they do have a concept of causing an offense to people in their community.  Instead of describing Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I would describe Him as The Good Shepherd.   As cattle herders they understand that concept.  It’s putting the message into their frame of thinking…it is contextualizing the message.  

Syncretism, on the other hand, is when a person uses the symbols, including language, of the culture in an attempt to blend their cultural/religious beliefs alongside the Gospel, where it is indistinguishable.  An example of this was my recent trip to India.  A Hindu temple and a Catholic church are situated side-by-side.  I took a picture of the idols in the temple and then walked less than fifty-feet to a statute of Mary and Jesus.  Incense is burning at both sites, people are praying to both with clasped hands.  Both Hindus and Catholics stand before their icons asking for blessing.

To a Hindu, which may acknowledge Jesus as “a god,” along with the other three hundred million they worship, it is not surprising that they see little difference in the Christian faith.  

I am a strong proponent of contextualization of the Gospel and I am dismayed at how little attention is given to crafting our message to the average person who has little or no understanding of the Good News.  Good contextualization moves away from telling the story of Christ from our Christian culture and stretches to present the Gospel to a worldview that is not our own.  The challenge is not too fall off the precipice into syncretism.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Anthro. Insights

My two days in a village in Senegal allowed me time to learn, listen and observe.  You don’t have to have a PhD in anthropology do learn from culture, though a cursory understanding of cultural anthropology provides guidelines to what you are seeing and experiencing and, hopefully, give insights on how to present the Gospel within the context of the people.  Here are some of my takeaways in my recent trip.

Night time discussion

Folk Islam - If you ask the average Senegalese what their religion is, 97 out of 100 will answer they are Muslims.  In reality, however, they know very little of their religion.  I was in Senegal at the time of Ramadan, their thirty-day ritual of fasting.  Apart from abstaining from food or drink from sundown to sunup, many in the village didn’t follow the ritual of praying five times a day or go to the mosque.  The Senegal people are, for the most part, cultural Muslims. 

Most Muslims in West Africa are animist, believing in superstitions of spirits and unseen powers of evil and good.  Over the doorpost of our guest hung a fetish to protect their household from evil spirits.   They wear amulets around their arms and waist, also for protection.

I asked what was the difference between the work of an Imam and that of a marabout.  An Imam is a religious teacher of the Quran; the marabout is a spiritual leader who has power to discern evil spirits, provide cures and protection through rituals and even potions, including love potions.  In essence, they are witchdoctors.  While many Senegalese are not devout in their Islamic practices they are almost fanatical about their belief in their marabouts, which are many throughout the country.

Amulet for Protection

Social Control - Sitting late at night with our host there was quite a gathering of people in the compound.  The eldest uncle came in and said that if I had any questions he would be happy to answer them (I guess word got around that I was interested in their culture and asked a lot of questions).  I had my usual queries about marriage procedures, i.e. who within the clan they can or cannot marry (first cousin marriages are common); how are marriages arranged; issues of bridewealth and I even asked, “What’s more important, having five sons and no daughters or five daughters and no sons?” 

Musa, our host stated that his uncle, the brother to his late father (who was a marabout of unusual power), made all the decisions in the family.  Musa had written his uncle for permission to bring foreigners to the village and it was only when his uncle granted the request that Musa invited my son-in-law to his village.  What struck me was how difficult it would be for Musa to become a follower of our Lord because of the social control.  To be a follower of Isa would bring shame on his family.  This is a common problem for people all over the world who hear and maybe even believe in Christ and live in system where the community is strong.  Individual decisions are not supported, it’s the group that more important that the individual. It is the group that controls society.

Are you also a toubob?  Musa wanted us to see many people in the village.  We stopped to visit one family and a young lady; in her twenty’s asked this question to my son-in-law in French (the only person who spoke to us in French while we were in the village).  “Are you fasting?”

“No,” my son-in-law answered, “I am a follower of Isa and we don’t follow that custom.”

“Then you are Catholic?” she replied. 

Earnest, our Senegalese colleague who speaks the tribal language of Wolof and French tried to explain to this young lady that we were not Catholic, but were Protestants, strong followers of Jesus. 

Speaking to Ernest she asked, “So, are you also a toubob?” (The term they use to describe a European).  Stunning question as Ernest is clearly Senegalese but she identified him as a European because he was a Christian.

When Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism dominates a country they consider Christianity a Western religion.  That perception is used by those religions to discourage people from embracing faith in Christ.  To be Wolof is to be Muslim; to be Indian is to be Hindu and to embrace the faith of a Christian is to disown, not only their religion but also their cultural identity.  As I said, Musa has a steep climb in accepting Isa. 

These are just some anthropological insights from a two-day visit in a village in Senegal and how to understand culture as we find a bridge for the Good News of Christ.   

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Not A Program - A Relationship

My recent trip to West Africa was what I billed as a “working vacation.”  The vacation part was visiting my daughter and her family who have been working in the country for past eight years.  The working part was my time in observing the culture.  Here are some observations from my three-week working vacation.

RELATIONSHIPS ARE KEY - Both my son-in-law (referred to following as A, and my daughter are gifted in genuinely being  interested in people.  They live in a part of the city that is not fancy, surrounded by half-built houses and many people in the neighborhood don’t have the basics of life, i.e. decent shelter, running water, electricity, etc.  The streets are sand, littered with trash and the extreme heat makes for a challenging living environment.  (Full disclosure, my kids live in a nice house and their yard is full of trees and flowers, but that’s due to A’s gift and diligence in making the desert bloom). 

Twenty-feet outside their compound is a bunch of guys who drive horse carts for a living.  Several years ago Musa, a village guy, moved across the road with his horse and cart.  He speaks no French, only Wolof.  Because his father died when he was less than five years old, Musa grew up as a Talibe boy. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talibe). Because he was a Talibe kid, Musa doesn't know how to read or write, as the main reason for the school is to recite the Quran in Arabic, which no one really understands or uses outside of their religious rituals.

 Over the years A has built a real friendship with Musa.  A tells the stories of how over time more horse guys from Musa’s village moved across the road, how that often A would sit and visit them at night, drinking tea, laugh and joke with each other.  There was a time when one of the horses got sick and A and my daughter visited them and PRAYED FOR THE HORSE to get better!  The horse eventually died, but that’s beside the point.  My kids are interested in people and because they are genuinely interested and demonstrate their care for others the relationship between my kids and the horse guys (and now their wives and children that have immigrated across the street) grows.

Sometime back Musa asked A to visit his village which is 200 hundred kilometers away from the city.  I volunteered to go with A because, even though I don’t speak French or Wolof, as teacher and student of culture I at least could be a participant observer and learn some things.  It also gave me a chance to be around A and my grandson.  My son-in-law enlisted a guy he works with, Ernest, who speaks English,  to go with us so I wasn’t completely in the dark. 

After a four-hour drive, we arrived in the heat of the day (about 110 degrees).  Of course Musa’s mother, brother, sisters and extended family members were happy to see him.  I can’t recount everything that happened in the village, but probably the most significant moment in the whole trip was within an hour of our arriving in the village.  As they escorted us to a mud hut to rest, Msua asked me a question (again, in Wolof, translated by Ernest into English.”

“Why is A different” he asked?

“He and his family have been so kind to us.  Even his children are respectful, well behaved and always speak to us.  I have never met anyone like A.  Can you tell me why he is so different?  Is it because he is educated?  What makes him different?”

We were all quite stunned with Musa’s question.  I breathed a quick prayer and then answered,  “There are at least two reasons I believe A is different,” I replied.  First, A grew up in Africa, so he probably understands the people better than most toubab’s (Europeans or white people).  But the main thing that makes A different is that he is a follower of Isa (Jesus).  Because of the love of Isa in the heart of A he demonstrates that love and concern for other people.”

Musa nodded, no doubt not really understanding my answer, but that’s okay. 

Musa’s question to me was years in the making.  A has given all the horse guys a solar recording of the Gospel, which they listen to all the time.  Though Musa’s question came as a surprise to all of us, it was born out of the many days and nights of A and the whole family being good neighbors, caring for people and just being, what we call, salt and light, in the mundane workings of life.

I tell my students regularly that the key to bringing people to understanding the Gospel is not through big programs and using all types of methods or gimmicks for evangelism.  Most people become followers of Christ through having and building trust and relationships with others. 

Will Musa become a follower of Isa as his friend A?  Obviously no one knows, and quite honestly, that should not be our greatest concern, for you see, salvation belongs to the Lord.  What we do know is that Musa and his family doesn’t have a chance for salvation without someone being truly interested in them, talking with them as a good neighbor.  Musa is not as an object for evangelism for my son-in-law and daughter, they just love people and that sets them apart from others, and it shows and has an impact.  Simple things, like our Lord said, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35-40).

Humanly speaking, Musa has a steep climb from being a cultural Muslim to a follower of Isa.  The “prison of disobedience” (as my friend Shewood Lingenfelter refers to) is their family structure, which is major barrier for Musa in making that eternal decision.  However, down through the ages God has brought people to Himself in spite of the obstacles, so we have hope. 

Relationships, being truly interested in others, that’s what makes A and the family different from other toubab’s.  Coupled with the love of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, people find their way to the true and living God, one person at a time.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Living With The Lost

“How can you live in a country where you know most of the people are going to   hell,” the PhD student in theology asked?

My friend, who has lived in south Asia for almost thirty years, in essence replied,
“One day at a time, as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) to those who do not yet believe in the living God or His Son, Christ Jesus.”

What troubled this American visitor was seeing idols and shrines throughout the city.  He was overwhelmed with the superstition and the rituals that Hindus perform just to get to the next level of existence, whatever and wherever that is.

Of course my friend could have also answered the young theologian this way…that every Christian, in every part of the world, lives every day with people who are going to hell.   And, though this a reality, why does it not bother us as much to live among the lost in our own country as with the lostness of those in other cultures? 

Two reasons.

First, the blindness to our own idols.   Idol worship is of course adoration to an object that we pray (sometimes literally, but not always), which will provide for us success, happiness, health and fulfillment.  To many people in West the idols of materialism have more tentacles than the arms of Lakshmi (goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity).  The average U.S. household credit card is over $15,000.  On top of that there is mortgage and car loan debt.  Somehow falling down prostrate to a flat screen TV, a diamond ring or the latest Xbox game doesn’t have that same queasy feeling of depravity as burning candles before the statue of Buddha.

Of course there is also the idol of family, career, ideology, equality, political affiliation and seemingly the most important issue for happiness (if you believe the media) sexual orientation. 

Psalms 115 describes idols as gods made of silver and wood that have eyes but cannot see, mouths that cannot speak, ears that cannot hear, etc.  And while idols cannot see, most Americans have eyes that cannot see their many gods.

Secondly, the reason we can’t see the lostness of people in our own culture is because of our culture…the culture of Christianity, and it takes two forms.  (a) We have just gotten so use to the godless culture that it has become the norm.  Divorce, pre-marital sex, bad language in public and in movies and soft porn that is invited into our homes each night, is enough to make a Muslim blush, but we hardly notice.  I heard someone say recently that they don’t even hear the “F” words in the movies anymore, as it just seems to be just a part of the dialogue.  We writhe in righteous pain of heart at the sight of those who crawl around a Buddhist stupa, but we’ll pay $15 to let the culture norms of our day entertain us.   Eyes that no longer see, ears that no longer hear.

(b) Everyone is a Christian.  I think part of the problem of the young theologian is there weren’t enough people like him around and he was uncomfortable (perhaps that is why he is studying theology, so he can surround himself with the saints in a Christian university). 

In America, 84% of the population claim to be Christians (in Dallas it’s a bit higher).  It’s pretty easy not to see the idol worshippers when they are us.  However, 49% of professing Christians say they rarely attend church, the other 51% at least once a month.  12% give 10% of their income to Christians work  (the church or missions) and less 20% read their Bible daily.  Cultural Christians, like cultural Muslims and Hindus, just assume that if we give at least verbal assent to our faith that we’ll make it to heaven, paradise or wherever, by-and-by.

An even greater challenge to the PhD student might be, does he (or we) even know truly lost people?  It’s easy to rub shoulders with those on the road to perdition in Katmandu, but what about the damned in Kansas City?

The truth is, we should never get use to living with lost, whether it is in Mumbai or Memphis.   Like my friend in Asia, each day, one day at a time, be salt and light no matter what idol city we live in.