“Foreign” Missions

Ask any missionary who has worked in a country other than his own and he will tell you that culture shock can be a serious hurdle. In our own culture we have a certain way of doing things — a way which seems correct to us, but only because we have always done things that way. We have standards and customs with regard to practically everything…

  • How we speak to one another
  • How much personal space we require
  • What we eat
  • How we eat
  • How we dress
  • How we interact with others

Our cultural standards are everywhere. We just don’t see them because they are the context in which we live our lives — much like a fish doesn’t know he’s wet, water is just his world. Our culture is “just how it is.” But, take a trip to another country. It turns out the world, as we know it, really isn’t “just how it is.” People in other places speak differently, eat differently, dress differently, and interact differently. You’ll learn pretty quickly that one’s culture influences everything. It influences the way you see the world — the way you think.

Ask a missionary. They’ll tell you life in another culture can be a shock. It takes time to become comfortable there.

There is another, lesser known, phenomenon that is akin to culture shock. It is called “reverse culture shock.” This happens when a person leaves their original culture and lives in another culture to the point of becoming comfortable. They adapt to the way their new culture does things, which, in turn, will eventually influence the way they think. When the person returns to their original culture they are shocked all over again. This happens for a couple of reasons:

  1. Their culture is not exactly as they remember. It has morphed — as all cultures do.
  2. They are not the same. In adapting to a new culture people change. They are no longer the same. They will not fit into their original culture in the same way they once did.

In fact, reverse culture shock can be more difficult to bear than culture shock. A person experiencing this simply had a desire to “go home” only to find out that what they thought was their home was not.

This should be the experience of every Christian.

Before we are saved we grow up thinking like the world, acting like the world, setting our goals according to what the world tells us. We have a sinful nature — corrupt and distorted. We are incapable of seeing beyond our flesh. This is our world. It is our culture. And it all seems perfectly fine to us.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. — Proverbs 14:12

We have no other context. We are completely incapable of understanding God or the things of God.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. — 1 Corinthians 2:14

But…

When we are saved we are made into something entirely different.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. — 2 Corinthians 5:17

Our eyes, once shut, have now been opened. We have been adopted as sons and daughters of God’s own family — members of a new kingdom, one completely at odds with the world we’ve known.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” — John 18:36

If Christ is truly our King then our Kingdom is not of this world either. All of this can come as quite a shock. The things of God are quite different than the things of this world. No longer are our own desires the primary focus of our lives. Now, God’s will becomes paramount. No longer do we seek things for ourselves. God’s glory becomes our primary motivation for everything we do.

As time passes though, it is possible — even probable — that a new Christian will remember the things that he used to regard as important and seek to return to them. But, for the truly regenerate this is not an option. Salvation is a divine act of God that transforms a person from death unto life. And, it is a divine act of God that keeps him there.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. — Philippians 1:6

A Christian will grow in the Lord. He will become more and more comfortable with the spiritual things of God that were so abhorrent to him before — God will see to it.

But here’s the thing. As a Christian grows he will experience reverse culture shock. This fallen world will be revealed for the corrupt distortion of God’s creation that it is. He will learn that the world he used to think of as his home is not.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. — Philippians 3:20-21

Christians are to be set apart — different — from the world. We hold no allegiance here. This is just our mission field, and we should regard it as nothing more.

We live in a world where people don’t speak our language. They aren’t motivated by what motivates us. They don’t understand us. But, if we have been saved, then we have been commissioned to take the Gospel to this lost and dying world.

We are all “foreign” missionaries. Charles Haddon Spurgeon once put it like this, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”

The question I leave with you, dear reader, is this…

Are you experiencing more and more reverse culture shock?

If you answered “yes” then that could be the indication you are becoming more and more comfortable in God’s Kingdom — evidence that the one who began a good work in you is completing it. If you answered “no” it could mean you never entered His Kingdom in the first place and are an imposter.

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Never prouder (and sadder)

I have never been more proud and more discouraged at the same time. During a Wednesday evening student ministry service the guest speaker asked the group of about 50 students (both junior high and high school) to turn in their Bibles to the text he was about to read.

There was very little activity — which prompted the speaker to say, “If you have your Bible with you hold it up.”

Only one student held up a Bible.

Then the speaker said, “If you have your cell phone with you hold it up.”

Every student held up a cell phone except one.

The speaker made the point (quite well, I thought) that we demonstrate what is most important in our lives not by what we say, but by what we do. Is it too much of an imposition to carry a Bible to church but not too much of an imposition to carry a cell phone everywhere?

What’s more important?

It was in this moment that I experienced one of my proudest and most discouraging times. The single student who held up a Bible and the single student who did not hold up a cell phone was the same student — my 14-year-old daughter.

Scripture describes believers as a “peculiar people” “set apart” from the world. In 1 Peter we learn that believers are “sojourners and exiles” in this world. We live here for now, but we are not to look like nor act like the world around us. We are different.

I was so proud to see my daughter being both peculiar and set apart in this manner — and so very discouraged that she was peculiar and set apart in a group of youth who profess Christ as Lord.

Am I saying it’s wrong to have a cell phone? No. But this little instance does make me wonder why 50 students would come to a “Bible study” and not bring their Bible. There are a couple of reasons…

  1. If Scripture is true (and it is) then the overwhelming odds are that, in a group of this size, many are present who are not regenerate. They are not Christians. As such, they have no desire to learn about the things of God.
  2. However, many Christians are present. Why didn’t they bring their Bible? Could it be that in an attempt to make student ministry “relevant” and “fun” we’ve reduced it down to something quite meaningless? Perhaps the Christians in the group have learned from experience not to expect a whole lot of Bible study at their Bible studies.

This really is an indictment against the culture of “student ministry” as a whole. Alvin Reid, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently wrote a piece about this very thing. Here is an excerpt…

“We got relevance but we created a generation of teenagers who are a mile wide and are an inch deep. Why do so many students finish high school and drop out (actually many drop out when they get their drivers license)? Because we created a youth ministry culture that taught them to do so. We have not equipped students to be adults, who understand the gospel and live as missionaries. We created a “cool” subculture where they could be treated like the center of the universe and given a bunch of stuff. And not enough Jesus, Scripture, or character.”

Read his entire article. He outlines some wonderful ways to correct this problem. It is high time we did.

Bless “our” troops?

The phrase “Bless our troops” has become a fixture in American culture in recent years. It’s on signs, bumper stickers, car magnets — it’s everywhere. It’s even in our churches and in our prayers. We ask God to “bless our troops.” But, do we ever stop to consider what, exactly, we are saying?

What do we mean by the word “our”?

When I say to my wife, “our children” I am referring to the children that belong to both of us. “Our” two daughters are both hers and mine. They belong to us jointly. So, when we ask God to bless “our” troops, do we mean those troops belong to both Him and us? Do we think these troops are God’s troops?

Why?

Is it because we regard “our” troops as God’s troops, placed on this earth to fight his battles? I know some people do. At the beginning of the Persian Gulf War in 1992 President George Bush made the following statement when he announced to the nation that hostilities against Iraq had begun…

“And so to every sailor, soldier, airman, and marine who is involved in this mission, let me say you’re doing God’s work.”

Really?

How do we make such a determination? I don’t recall seeing it mentioned in Scripture. Throughout history nations and armies have made the same claim for themselves…

  • The Crusaders claimed they were God’s army when they marched against the Muslims.
  • The Muslims claimed they were God’s army when they marched against the Crusaders.
  • The Protestants claimed they were God’s army when they fought against the Catholics during the 30 Years War.
  • The Catholics claimed they were God’s army when they fought against the Protestants during the 30 Years War.
  • Even the Nazis of Germany (the current Gold Standard of evil among history’s nations) made the claim Gott Mit Uns, God with us.

Where does any nation — any army — get the gall to claim divine favor? Is it because of military success and the accumulation of power? Do we really think the construction of an earthly kingdom is a sign of God’s favor? Please recall that Egypt was the world’s most powerful empire for a long, long time. The Israelites lived in slavery under the Egyptians’ rule for 400 years. Yet, God declared that there was one reason Egypt had ascended to its lofty place…

“But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” — Exodus 9:16

God raised up Egypt so that He might display His power when he delivered His people from the clutches of an empire the rest of the world feared. Egypt was far from finding favor with God.

Do we really think the 200-plus years of America’s existence is evidence of His favor?

Perhaps by saying bless “our” troops we are not indicating joint ownership with God. Perhaps we’re merely asking God to bless “our” (American) troops.

OK. So, does that mean we think “our” (American) troops are worthy of God’s blessing? Why? Are they fighting battles consistent with God’s purposes? Are they making the world safe for the spread of the Gospel? I’ve a couple of comments with regard to this reasoning:

Comment Number 1: Making the world safe for the spread of the Gospel is a fallacy. Using the force of arms to conquer another group of people accomplishes no such thing. Charles Haddon Spurgeon dispelled that myth more than 100 years ago. Besides, history has shown that the Gospel can flourish in oppressive environments. God’s Church doesn’t need the permission of earthly governments to grow — we have the Holy Spirit of God…

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” — Romans 8:31-37

God planted His Church amid one of the most oppressive empires in history — Rome. Where did we ever get the notion that we had to first provide political freedom before sharing the Gospel?

Comment Number 2: According to Scripture, God’s purpose for His people is to make disciples of all nations. This necessitates the sharing of the Gospel and the planting of Churches. Not only are “our” troops not doing this, they are actually working against this goal. Consider…

  • When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan there were a number of Christian Churches there. Now, there are none. And the government of the United States vigorously supports the Afghan government responsible for the eradication of Christian Churches.
  • American chaplains, ordained ministers, cooperated in rounding up and destroying Bibles. The Chaplain Corps motto is Pro Deo et Patria  which is Latin for “For God and Country.” Yet Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.” When there were conflicting orders (spread the Gospel or destroy the Gospel) “our” troops obeyed the orders of an earthly king and disobeyed the orders of the King of kings. In an effort to appease the diplomatic objectives of an earthly kingdom these “men of God” took the Word of God out of the hands of lost men.

Why should God bless “our” efforts in this?

Am I saying there is nothing worth fighting for? No. I think individual liberty and freedom are worth fighting for. I think there are legitimate reasons for a nation to go to war. I firmly subscribe to the Just War Theory — that a nation is justified in going to war in defense of itself.

Am I saying we shouldn’t pray for the troops overseas? No. If you have loved ones overseas I think it is completely appropriate to ask God for their protection and their safe return.

However, when it comes to asking God to accomplish things I think the only way to pray is in the manner our Lord, Himself, outlined for us…

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” — Matthew 6:9-13

When we pray our focus should be entirely on His glory, His kingdom, and His will. Period. But, let’s be honest. When we pray for God to “bless our troops” we are not merely asking for safety and protection. We want God to grant them success in their mission. We are asking him to grant an outcome that we have already determined is appropriate. But what if the failure of American troops overseas is what will further God’s kingdom? What if that is God’s perfect will? What if the utter destruction of the United States is what will most glorify God? What if, like Egypt, God raised up the United States so that by our destruction His power could be known throughout the earth? Are you OK with that?

Can you still honestly pray that His kingdom come and His will be done if those things mean the downfall of America? The thing you want glorified the most is the thing you love the most. If you can’t honestly pray for God’s kingdom and will then ask yourself “why.”

For too long we have believed it possible to serve God and country, despite the fact our Lord said we can’t serve two masters. And it’s nothing new. We’re not the first people to struggle with this. This very dilemma is what prompted Joshua to write…

“…choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” — Joshua 24:15

What about you?

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