A Risky Christianity Is a Blessed Christianity
I recently returned from a trip to Togo, Africa and many have been asking me to share about the experience. It is a bit overwhelming because I know the expression will fail the experience, but I’m going to give it a try. I was already planning on processing my “take-aways” from the trip, so I will just journal publicly about the ones I think apply to TCPC as a whole. My next few blog posts will be lessons learned from a week in Africa. If you get even a small portion of what God showed me last week, then it will be well worth the time.
Let me first offer a quick word to the cynics. I know what you’re thinking before you even say it—sheltered pastor of American congregation spends a week in Africa and comes back to lecture us about all the ways American Christianity gets it wrong and all the ways the global Church gets it right. Is that what this is? Yes. That’s exactly what this is. The African Church has much to learn from us, and they humbly and gladly received our words, wisdom, and training while I was there. And we have much to learn from them; so let’s humbly spend some time at their feet.
Lesson 1: A risky Christianity is a blessed Christianity.
The first night we were there, I was training future leaders of the African Church on Christ-centered preaching, and in mid-lecture was startled by the Islamic call to prayer billowing from the mosque around the corner (the picture above was taken right outside this missions base where I was teaching). I had to raise my voice to be heard over the chant repeatedly calling out to the hearers in Arabic…
Allah is greatest! I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah! I bear witness that Muhammad is his messenger! Hasten to prayer! Allah is greatest! There is none worthy of worship except Allah!
It just so happened that at that very moment I was quoting 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Recklessly preaching Christ crucified over the chanting of an Islamic cleric audaciously proclaiming that there is none worthy of worship except Allah…that was a first for me.
Later on in my lecture, I paused to ask the group about some of the struggles of their culture. One person raised his hand and said, “Idolatry.”
I said, “That’s right. Every culture has idols, what are some of the idols your people struggle with?”
He said, “Worshiping false gods.”
I said, “Yes I understand, but give me specific idols. Like American’s struggle with the idol of wealth, power, success, and so forth.”
He responded, “No you don’t understand what I’m saying. Our people struggle with actual idols. They sacrifice animals to idols. They bow down and worship and pray to man-made idols.”
“Oh,” I paused. “You mean real idolatry?”
“Yes,” he said, “Real idolatry.”
This isn’t Tim Keller counterfeit god’s of a culture kind of stuff; this is actually worshiping Baal kind of stuff. I’ve preached a lot of sermons, but not once have I felt the need to make one of my applications, “Stop slitting the throats of goats and offering the blood on the alter of a voodoo god.”
That first night shattered my paradigms of comfortable Christianity. It was as if our Delta flight had landed in the book of Acts, and to be honest with you, it was utterly refreshing. You would think that joining the front line battles of Christianity would lead to fear and trepidation, but I found myself strangely at peace. I experienced a joy that comfortable Christianity simply doesn’t have to offer.
Indeed I discovered what the Bible proclaims and many of our brothers and sisters have experienced, a risky Christianity is a blessed Christianity. To be stripped of an ordered society (a great thing which I appreciate now more than ever), to step outside the bible-belt culture, to be cut off from our unlimited resources, to lose these comforts we take for granted and to truly trust God in every circumstance is simultaneously terrifying and satisfying.
I commend it to you, and you don’t have to go to Africa to find it. Granted, American Christianity is a risk-averse sub-culture, but it doesn’t have to be. I returned to the states determined, more than ever, to embrace risk and walk by faith in my normally sheltered lifestyle. Could our family give so lavishly that we actually have to pray for God’s provision? Could I openly warn unbelieving friends about the looming danger of hell? Could I make room for the inconveniences of mercy and justice? Could my home be an open invitation to the needy? Could I bear the American cross of awkwardness? Could I speak out against the evils of our society, even the unhip ones?
I’m convinced that sweet communion with God is waiting for us on the other side of risk, and you don’t have to fly to Africa to find it. A riskless Christianity quickly develops into a boring Christianity. So take a risk and enjoy.