The houses on our street are festooned with fake cobwebs, carved pumpkins glare from porches, and a witch on her broom seems to have run into a near-by telephone pole. A bowl of candy sits by our front door—ready for Tuesday night’s trick-or-treaters. I’m looking forward to seeing cute little kids in their princess and superhero costumes. But all the other stuff? I don’t mind cobwebs, spiders, bats, or pumpkins (even with leering grins). But witches? Seances? Evil spirits? No thank you!
I just read a book that has transformed the way I read the Bible. I think you should read it too.
As a white, North American woman, I have cultural biases—and most of the time I’m not even aware of them. I have a certain way of thinking about time—as a series of consecutive events. I live in a society that places a strong emphasis on individuality. We value efficiency, not procrastination, and leaders over followers. Other cultures view these (and other) things quite differently.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
We all recognize Jeremiah 29:11. We use it to cheer those going through a difficult time. We offer it to new graduates as a sign that their future is bright. When our own circumstances seem bleak, we repeat it to ourselves. God wants me to prosper. This is just a temporary setback.
The problem is, we take this oh-so-encouraging verse out of context and apply it incorrectly. I don’t want to rain on your parade, but misapplying Scripture is never a good idea. When things don’t pan out the way we think they should, we blame God. I know people who have even abandoned their faith altogether because they had expectations that God failed to meet.
Much of the grumbling I hear in the church has to do with the godless culture in which we live. Should we fear for the church? Is our culture really that godless? Consider…
Politicians of all persuasions feel free to corrupt the truth to their own ends. They routinely break the very laws they’re sworn to uphold; they use their positions of power to lord it over those who disagree with their policies.
As of last January our national debt exceeded $17,265,987,000,000.00—that’s approximately $54,379.00 per person. Can you afford to pay your share? Probably not—the average credit card debt is $15,799. That doesn’t include mortgages, car loans, student loans, etc. As the leaders lead, so the nation follows. (See Romans 13:8)
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
I think about that verse often… what about “those who have never heard”? How did God clearly show his power and divine nature? Yes, we often say that the beauty of nature, as seen in a sunset or a baby’s first cry, is ample evidence of the existence of God. Is that what this verse means?
Then I read Eternity in Their Hearts, by Don Richardson*. I realized that God didn’t stop with showing himself in his creation. He placed a part of himself in every people group on earth. It’s up to us to discover where the gospel hides in every culture. It’s absolutely amazing, the “coincidences” that missionaries find on the field. That’s what this book is about.
A couple of missionaries in Cambodia wanted to do something to encourage the church they had planted, give them more credibility in their community, and provide opportunities for evangelism. Seeing the health needs around them, they decided to bring a team of doctors and nurses from the United States to serve the Cambodians.
The medical team arrived, and everything when according to plan. They visited Cambodian families in their homes, treated their medical needs, and shared the Gospel. May responded, accepting Jesus and agreeing to come to church.
I’m sure the Americans went home and gave a glowing report about the great work God had done in Cambodia.
It’s getting harder and harder to do a good deed anymore. This month and over the next two months, we’ll look at some case studies of good deeds gone wrong, and what we should do differently next time.
Africa is home to 15 million orphans and “children at risk.” Most Americans are very aware of this crisis, largely caused by the spread of AIDS. We also are familiar with James 1:27—“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress….”
Clearly, the church needs to step up and come alongside these children, but how? The traditional answer has been to build thousands of orphanages. But is that the right answer?