THE LAND OF PLENTY
After 9 months of being in Germany, we made our first trip home to the States. (If you are reading this, and saying, “hey, we didn’t see them while they were home,” just know I am SORRY! Feel free to register your complaints.) Speaking of “home,” when we stepped off the plane in Dallas, I am a little embarrassed to say that the first thing we did was go to Sonic. The next thing we did was arrive at our friends’ home eager to visit. Well, first things first right? Our friends have been back from Brazil for only a few months. In Brazil, they lived as missionaries for the last 10 years. Having just arrived from another country, we had very stimulating conversation about the challenges of sharing our faith abroad. The truth is, coming back to America is like getting a great big hug. It’s sort of like going home at the end of a long day at work and being greeted by your family. America is indeed “the land of plenty.” In fact, convenience is dispensed on every corner in nearly every town in America. 7-11s, restaurants, Kinko’s, medical facilities, shopping, churches, and the list goes on and on. After being gone for a while, the vast and immediate availability of “everything” can be overwhelming. I never realized before just how much it is the land of “educational freedom” either until moving overseas. And believe it or not, it is still the land of “religious freedom.” The problem is most Americans simply don’t realize that they live in either the “land of plenty” or the “land of religious freedom.”
Freedom comes in every size and color. Freedom to eat, drink and be merry, and the freedom to be whatever you want to be. Freedom to tell your child, she can be whatever she wants to be. Freedom to home schools your kids (illegal for German citizens). Freedom to go back to college at the age of 80 to change your career field. Freedom freedom freedom! (Can’t you just hear Aretha belting the song out?) No doubt about it, the “land of plenty.” The question is what do we do with this freedom? My focus is not what the unbeliever does with this freedom, but what do Christ followers do with this incredible gift they have been given? Many believers in churches all across America are exercising their “freedoms” in negative ways. Their growth is happening from within, not without. Furthermore, Christians are often fighting amongst themselves about how to get it “just right” in the Sunday morning service. (In Galations 5, this argument was about circumcision or uncircumcision, but now it often surrounds how, when, and where we worship; or the methods with which we deliver the gospel; the old or the new; the traditional or the contemporary) It is indeed true that you have the freedom to debate such useless arguments. But do you have the time? Buildings and steeples all too often take the focus off of the lost and place that focus on us. The truth is, in other countries, reaching the lost takes on a whole new meaning when you are trying to overcome language barriers and cultural differences that have absolutely no regard for whether or not we have 3 songs, a prayer and an invitation or just two songs and a prayer. Differences that have no regard for wooden pews or metal chairs, but are very skeptical about a church that meets in someone’s home. Shameless dependence on our God, the only one who can bridge the gap between our neighbors and us, is what runs the show around here. We don’t have a staff, a steeple, or a building. We don’t have baptismals, fellowship halls, or jungle gyms. And we don’t have an endless selection of upscale restaurants to choose from for lunch on Sunday after church. But we have the Creator of the Universe, God, revealing Himself to us and going ahead of us on the journey. As we returned to our home and our life here in Germany jet lagged and disheveled, but also energized and refueled from our visit with friends and family, (and all of our favorite restaurants,) I had a message on my home answering machine. It was a new couple that just arrived here from the states, wanting to attend our church. And actually, a few weeks ago, we had our first German family join us. I don’t know if there will be more to follow, but I am trusting that God will resource and equip us to bring more.
I am grateful for all of my freedoms in America and these who have paid such a great debt of sacrifice for me to have them. I am grateful and thrilled that we have buildings to congregate and worship in and kitchens to cook meals for the needy. I am grateful for places to fellowship together. I am grateful that we have passionately devoted staff members who daily sacrifice their personal time and agendas in order to spread the gospel to so many. I am grateful for all the wonderfully equipped children’s’ ministries at churches all across America. I am deeply grateful for the Internet campus and the incredible resource they are in helping us be a part of the LC vision in bringing the gospel to folks all around the globe. And also for our local chapel who lends us support and encouragement. I am simply saying this with regard to all of the “haves” you have in the “land of plenty.” It “ain’t” like that everywhere else. How do you exercise your freedoms? How do you spend your time sharing Christ? Are you the gloom and doom Christian political activist convinced that Christians will start behaving the way they should when all is as it should be in American politics? Are you the one on a personal mission to see that the order of worship is identical to the New Testament church (hmm, good luck with getting that exactly right!) Maybe you are the “people server patrol” (whether in an official or unofficial capacity:) who will lead the singing, who can participate in the worship service, who takes up the offering, or how often do we serve communion? I realize that there are tons of logistics to cover and master in order for the church body to run smoothly, of course. But when our agenda becomes more important than the lives of God’s people, then we have exercised our freedoms recklessly and without considering what else God may want us to see in the situation right in front of us. If it has done nothing else for me, moving to a different country has indeed given me a different perspective on what really matters. Sometimes all you have is a plate of cookies and an encouraging scripture. Or sometimes it is just a smile and a few awkward words “hello, my name is…and I live just down the street….” “Greater is He that is in me…..”
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galations 5:1
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. (Judy’s insert: in other words you cover the logistics, the outward commands of the law, but……) But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. Matthew 23
But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:16-18