Dr. Robert Banks, my friend from Canberra, began to realize he could not live “Christianly” because he had been trapped by the pressures of time commitments. He had no time to reflect, no time to be with the Lord, no time to be with his family. His solution was more radical than most would be willing to consider. He sold his expensive home with a whopping mortgage on it. He took the profits from the sale and bought a lovely old cottage near the university. He quit his pressured job and got one advising doctoral students on their theses. He sold his auto and bought a bicycle. He raised ginger in his back garden and made his own ginger beer, and planted vegetables. He then began to use the leisure time he had gained to do the work God had given him to do.
I shall never forget the joy I felt when I walked into his home. Peace was in the air there. This very well known author had time to talk with me – a total stranger then – and give me all the time I wanted.
I am in the process of doing something like that in our home right now. The American culture is always demanding our time. In a little while, there’s no more time left for a contemplative lifestyle. When that takes place, there’s no more life to style.
RETHINK YOUR DESIRE FOR PERSONAL PEACE
When Francis Schaeffer came to be with me for the Conference on the Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, he said, “You Americans want two things out of life: personal peace and prosperity.” As the years have passed, his comment has proved to be more and more appropriate.
What price are we paying for personal peace? And, what price are we going to pay for it?
There’s the enormous cost to you to care for the babies of crack mothers, the detoxification of drug users, etc. Already our insurance in the U.S. is in serious trouble because of the high cost of treating AIDS patients.
The high cost of the personal peace we have so desired is now being paid. Preachers with electric gates for their driveways, men in choirs with guns inside their robe to protect the audience in case a demented man should enter, bars on windows, etc. Soon the ones who wanted peace will be imprisoned inside their own homes, while the rest of the population roams the streets like wild dogs.
This is the high price of Christians who have not wanted to get involved in touching the lives of the lost world around them! We have entered the political arena with our Moral Majority, etc., and failed. The reason? You don’t pass laws to do something about wild dogs; you change their hearts!
When are we going to realize that to live Christianly in America, we must give up forever (and that includes eternity!) the idea that our personal peace can be attained by isolation from the people who need us?
There is no peace, no joy, like that which results from bringing an unreached person to Jesus. Yet, most of the Christians in the U.S. today have never (and don’t plan to) reached out and brought others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior.
I am just finishing a book entitled Knocking On Doors, Opening Hearts. One of those who proofed it said, “Ralph, how long will we be able to knock on a door without fear we will be robbed, and how long will people in our nation continue to open their doors to us when we knock?” Of course, that day has already passed and contacts must be prearranged by telephone calls.
The longer we go with the illusion that we will have personal peace by imprisoning ourselves, the less peace there will be for Christians in America.
RETHINK YOUR USE OF PROSPERITY
I have been reading a historical novel as I travel over the Pacific. It’s by a Frenchman who really did his homework on Calcutta. It’s entitled City of Joy.
In it, the reader is plunged into the reality I have seen of a city gone to hell while Kali, the goddess of hell reigns over it. Her statue in her temple, one block from Mother Theresa’s hospice for the dying street people, has a necklace of skulls and a belt of human arms and hands. One of my students watched the blood sacrifices of animals in that awful place and came out vomiting.
It’s the story of a rickshaw puller who sleeps on the streets with his wife and four children. Woven into it is the story of a priest from Poland who lives in the vilest imaginable slum, nicknamed “The City of Joy.” His relationships to the lepers, the Muslims, the Hindus, and the power people of the city are carefully detailed. It is one of the most powerful books on the poor I have ever read, and all my Doctoral students from here on out are going to have to read it to get out of my course.
I wish somehow I could transport you, as I have done with my students, to The City of Joy. Walk with me on the slimy, excrement-filled mud lanes between dirt huts that house twelve people in a room only three by six feet in size without windows.
Look at the children who are in the last stages of starvation from malnutrition. And then listen to the latest tape from one of the prosperity preachers of America! Realize that your Christian brothers and sisters of this world have paid a far greater price than we Americans for becoming His followers – often beaten for their newfound faith – and that many hundreds of thousands of them live in the most poverty-filled homes. There’s only one principle for American Christians to live by: go ahead and let the Lord bless you with the wealth so readily gained in this land of opportunity. But when you get it, remember: you have an obligation to live simply, so that others can simply live!
I climbed five flights of stairs in a tenement full of prostitutes a few weeks ago in Hong Kong. I entered a room about twelve feet square. In it were thirteen of our trainees for the cell groups now being formed to become the underground church after 1997. As I taught these grass roots students who had pledged their lives and future to live by faith and plant a new cell group each month, supervising the ones they had already planted, I thought of American Christians. The contrast between their lifestyle and ours is awesome. They don’t ask for American money; they would ask for our concern.
RETHINK YOUR VIEW OF THE CHURCH
I still think often of the precious lady who wrote to say, “Ralph, why are you so hard on the American churches? We have a sweet fellowship and a dear pastor who loves and lives the Word. What’s so wrong with us?”
What can I say to such a saint of the Lord? How can I have such a strong feeling about the church in America today not being a credible, biblical body of Christ?
How? First, by reading the Scriptures. They make it transparently clear that the American traditional church is a total prisoner of a hedonistic culture. We have bedded the people of God for a long winter’s nap in comfortable, often sinfully posh buildings and have structured the “work of the Lord” to be primarily related to our own needs and interests, including Bible study that equips no saint for the work of the ministry.
Second, by reading magazines like Christianity Today and Charisma, and realizing that the people of God here have become the great marketplace for profiteers. And by hearing of “Christian singers” who come to the same auditoriums used by the rock stars – at exactly the same price per ticket!
The Christian community in America is the total, complete, absolute prisoner of its culture. The only way it can think of to stand against it is to organize politically. In my book, that’s the last straw after we have lost our conviction that the nation is hopelessly lost and helpless. We have entrenched ourselves in listening to “Christian radio” that feeds our new generation of believers on pseudo-rock music, with five minute “plugs” for the latest single’s ski trip.
How long can we go on with our “hymn, hymn, announcements, solo, sermon, benediction” routine before we awaken to recognize that we have not even missed the tens of thousands of Americans who used to attend our churches, and who have now become a part of the 70% who never, or seldom ever, darken church doors? Are all those within the traditional churches without conscience that our churchianity has none of the characteristics of biblical Christianity?
I have one hope in all of this. I can’t tell you, from my vantage point, how clearly the traditional church in our nation is falling apart. Preachers being fired, churches splitting, denominations devouring each other like wild dogs, missionary activities having to be curtailed – on and on it goes. In February I go again to speak to a classroom of 75 pastors with ruined lives who are trying to pick up the pieces by going back to a special school to help them get their perspective for a future ministry. I know of several such clandestine schools that have been developed in our nation in the past five years.
The other day, I said to Ruthie, “I’ve been at this matter of seeking to renew the church for 25 years now. We have paid a heavy, heavy price to remain committed to something that seems to be impossible. I only have 3½ years left before I’m 65. It’s lonely out here. Do you think I have worked at this long enough? Is it time to give up?”
She threw my own words back in my teeth: “We don’t have to be successful, but we do have to be faithful to the calling God has given to us.”
So, dear friend of mine who has read this far, I want to reaffirm to my Lord in your presence that I am not giving up. I am dead sure the church as it is being practiced in our nation is filled with enough evil – its total disregard for its mission of equipping the saints and getting out into whitened fields – that the Holy Spirit is going to raise up the “alternative church” before I die. I am believing that pastors and church members will get sick and tired of their building-centered lifestyle and make the shift to cell group church life. What I experience every time I leave America must happen here!
Is anybody out there listening? Does anybody care?
We attempted to plant a cell group church in Houston. The vestiges of it still remain, but it suffered from not having a deeply committed young man with the ability to give it leadership. I am too old now to build a new work on my own pastoral skills. In Singapore, I’m Senior Associate to the Pastor in a cell group church that is following to the letter what I have suggested as a format. We have grown to 4,000 in about four years of time. It can be done! If God will send along a Spirit-filled, gifted man to lead the Houston Christian Community, it will grow as fast as a mushroom. I have thus far been disappointed by trying to help pastors who are afraid to wade out into the unknown here in the city. We keep praying…
RETHINK YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE UNREACHED
The unreached in our own city number into the hundreds of thousands. The Christian community could rally itself to be equipped to reach them. I have been writing for years, putting together the tools to be used to do that. However, if a community of believers wants to reach out and touch the lost, the first step is not to write for my materials. Their first step is to go and do it! We already know how to do more than we are doing. No one has ever written a textbook on how to love.
Are you interested in changing your lifestyle, perhaps reworking your time, freeing up 12 or more hours a week to “live Christianly?” Are you interested in touching the people around you?
Go ahead – change your interest into reality. Begin a cell group and invite some hell raisers near you to come over for coffee and chatting. That’s a good “Step One.” Try it!