I'm struggling with something... and for a while, I have been trying to pinpoint what it is. It really all started about three years ago, when I travelled to Hungary. But, before I rewind to that, I need to explain something about myself first...
I have always enjoyed stuff... you know, gadgets, computers, guitars, mobile phones, cars, car stereos, you name it... I have also always had a strange knack for being able to find "deals" and great prices on this kind of "stuff." So, after years of these "deals," I had managed to gather quite a few guitars, guitar amps, electronic pieces (stereos, etc), and was pretty proud of the fact that I had managed to get it all very cheaply. While I enjoyed all of the "stuff," I almost felt trapped in not being satisfied with what I had.
Now, jump back to my return from Hungary. Since then, we have been in the Thailand, the Czech Republic twice, and spent 2 weeks in Hungary a second time. I have to tell you, the time I have spent in these countries have changed the very fabric of who I am. I have been at a loss as to how to explain these changes... until recently
I talk about my enjoyment of "stuff." Here in America, it seems to be our national pastime, collecting things. Those things are different for all of us, but can range from very large and expensive to small and inexpensive things. When we moved to Austin three years ago, I was surprised at how much extra "stuff" we had in our house. Many times, they were items that had not been touched in years, but it was stuff that we could not bring ourselves to part with. Now, I'm not talking about "hoarder" type stuff... I'm talking about stuff that we had worked hard to buy, and things that society taught us that we "needed." I mean, we all need a shed full of tools, or a set of fine china, right?
I bought into that line of thought. I saw nothing wrong with my life... until we started going overseas. I sat with pastors in Mexico who had nothing, yet were some of the most joyful people I have ever met. I talked with a taxi driver in Chiang Mai, Thailand whose joy and love overwhelmed me. I developed friendships with young men and women who had grown up in overcrowded orphanages in Hungary, who had only a few personal items of their own. I saw their love of life, and even their joy...despite having no real possessions, and in some cases having no family.
I saw people giving selflessly of their own possessions, time, and efforts... to bring the love and hope of Jesus into the lives of those around them. I saw missionary families spending their lives pouring into these people, praying that God would change these cultures, and continue to save lives.
I remember the first time I returned to the USA after being in Hungary for the first time. I was absolutely shocked by the culture that I grew up in. We stepped off the plane in Memphis, TN and walked right by a BBQ place in the airport. The absolute excesses of America were pictured to me in that place. Massive piles of food, expensive luggage, expensive clothes, alcohol...it all just made my stomach turn. How had I grown up here, and not realized just how focused on ourselves we really are here in America? I thought that question would fade... but it did not.
I think what I am struggling with is selfishness. My own selfishness haunts me, but what haunts me even more is the selfishness of our entire culture, and yes... that includes our church culture. While a church in Ukraine prays that they will have wood to heat their church this Sunday, our concern in America is focused on making sure that giant projection system gets installed or the new smoke/lights show works just right, so that we can treat people to the perfect "experience." We build multi-million dollar facilities, have large conferences, and sell one another books about how to build the "perfect" church. All the while, our giving (at least as Southern Baptists) to missions continues to decrease at an alarming pace.
We are (including myself) a society that has become focused on the temporary, on the things that sparkle, and we have been deceived. I see this throughout our culture, and I see it in my own habits. Perusing Amazon, looking at the new technology that has just come out... even though the technology I already own is amazing. Longing for things I wish I could afford, and feeling sorry for yourself when you know you cannot possibly afford something silly that you "want." It's silly... and yet, its 'Murican thinking.
I know this is a long...often rambling...post. I do not want you to think that I believe that it is wrong for America to be blessed. We ARE blessed, but we are blessed by God... NOT by the work of our own hands. Just like that famous line from Spider man, "With great power comes great responsibility," we must remember WHERE this all comes from. Once we do that, we must remember that we do not simply have a responsibility to make America great. Our responsibility is to make the Name of Jesus great among all nations!
God has changed my thinking on these things...and is changing the way I view ministry, and life in general. Teaching others to be disciples of Jesus is the most important thing there is for us to do. My prayer is that we will take a hard look at our own motives for ministry, and that God will align His church to bring about a great revival in the world! I want to lay my own selfish desires down... but it is a daily struggle! I would certainly appreciate your prayers!