The Beautiful Death of American Gospels

I remember Juan.

He was a retired Puerto Rican doctor in his seventies who spent his retirement pouring out his life for the people in the slums of Caguas. His mission house fed the poor a warm lunch everyday and provided free healthcare to the community. He worked like a young man in his prime when he wielded a machete to clear the land for a new mission down the road. He greeted virtual strangers with a smile, a hug, and maybe even a kiss on the cheek.

When asked how much money he needed for repairs on the mission house, Juan beseeched our group,

“You Americans always send money and think that is the cure. We don’t need money, we need missionaries!”

I remember Peter.

He was a middle aged Romanian man who served the youth in one of the few Protestant churches in Timişoara. We stood on a Romanian hillside overlooking the retreat building our group was staying at for the week. Peter beamed with pride as he testified about the building: twenty years ago this was a Communist schoolhouse built to indoctrinate children in name of Marxism. Now it is a Christian camp center dedicated to love children in the name of Jesus Christ.

At the end of our last service at the camp, our American group decided to wash the feet of the Romanian children and adult workers (John 13). One woman, a kitchen helper and parent of a youth, wept uncontrollably as she had her feet washed. When asked what she was so moved by, she said:

“You being Americans, wash our feet!”

I was touched.

And part of me grieved.

Why would Americans be on an undeserving pedestal in this woman’s mind?imagesCAXMI4QO

I wondered what influence the “American” gospel had on her. Even third world countries are reached by the satellite tentacles of TBN, Daystar, 700 Club, etc. How is a malnourished Indian kid who eats dirt brownies supposed to process a purple haired lady sitting on a golden throne asking for money?

How is a poor Haitian boy who witnessed his parents die after a sudden earthquake supposed to process a rich old white man who says God judged his nation because of its religious history?

Was it even the prosperity gospel the Romanian lady heard?

Or was it the gospel of American pride/nationalism even some of my Baptist brethren preached?

Our American heritage said we were a city set on hill, their heritage said they were a Slumdog languishing in the valley.

What she needed to hear was this: She was a precious child of God, a beloved bride, a chosen saint in a Kingdom without end. Everyone in that room was on equal footing; we were all crippled by our sin until God stooped down to us in Christ and lifted us up.

We weren’t Romanian brethren and American brethren. We were brothers and sisters, period. Blood bought adopted kids with the same Father. We were joined with an unbreakable bond that transcended culture or language.

Though our pasts are diversified, our future will be unified in one glorious end. This will be the utter death of all our pet gospels:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9)

Amen.

Bryan Daniels

God Will Not Shut Up

<Please read on before any offense sets in>

After my senior year of high school I had the opportunity to go on a summer mission trip to Hawaii with my young adult church group.  {Go ahead; you can now have pity on me for suffering so greatly for the cause of Christ.} I assure you it wasn’t just a vacation incognito. Most of that month consisted of construction work on a small Baptist church and christian school on the relatively obscure (and poorer) island of Molokai. We slept in the church’s gym and warded off mice before and after every meal due to the drought conditions of the little island.

Other than the time spent on “The Friendly Island” I was able to spend one week in the Maui mountains and another on a Kauai beachhead as a young children’s camp counselor. Needless to say, during my month-long stay in Hawaii I was staggered by the sheer beauty of God’s creation.

True story: I took this pic in Austria...It's a picture of a postcard from an Austrian airport : )

On Saturdays, we’d get the day off to enjoy the riches of nature around us. I remember visiting one beach in Kauai where two massive rock edifices jutted out from either side of the short shoreline. Tourists and natives alike cannon-balled and jack-knifed from the bluffs into the aqua water. I plunged into the glittering sea and swam among the glowing exotic fish for about 150 feet out until I arrived at a coral reef. This reef had a smooth flat surface that kept the water only a knee-deep for yards at a time. Parts of the reef were curiously grooved and almost seemed to be fitted for a human buttocks. I obliged one of the reef’s chairs and reclined as I faced the shoreline.

I was awestruck.

A panorama of large green mountainous slopes rose above the sandy brown shoreline. I looked to my right and my left and saw that ominous green edifices whisped with clouds stretched down the shoreline as far as the eye could see. The canopy above me was the sky blue and clear. With a light cool breeze blowing through the hair I used to have, I thought:

This is ridiculous.

I felt a bit like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration. “Lord, why can’t I just pitch my tent on this reef for awhile and chill with you?”

The apparent work and beautiful design of the Creator was all clearly laid out before me. The experience solidified for me what Scripture says about creation:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it to them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-21)

Let this resonate deep down into your soul’s sweet spot: God is never not speaking to us

If you’ve ever attempted to share your faith one sure objection will always rise up in the listener: What of the pagan one in an African jungle who has died without hearing the gospel?

One simple biblical (albeit unsatisfying) answer is “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)

Another answer may be: Even if there is not a clear biblical gospel message preached by a messenger, then there is still a God born message that is always being accepted or rejected through a man’s circumstance, creation, or personal conscience. That man and all men are without excuse.

Psalm 19 makes it clear: God will not and cannot shut up. His speech continually “pours forth” through His creation. If we can’t hear Him it has absolutely nothing to do with the frequency or clarity of His message and absolutely everything to do with the deafness and dullness of our own hearts.

No man can ever plead ignorance before the Judge of all the world, neither the heathen in a Congo village nor the intellectual in academic America. All men have at least violated the law written on their hearts and despised the obvious graciousness of the One who gave them life and sustenance. They drank His water, ate His food, and splurged on His providential blessing, yet many never reached out for the Giver of these gifts though He is not far from each of us (Acts 17:27).

No man is innocent (Romans 3:11-18), no man is ignorant, no man has an excuse, all men deserve wrath. The heavens, the seas, the mountains, the sunsets, good food, family, and our own wounded conscience bears witness to this.

But let us rejoice in hope if God has granted us grace through Jesus Christ. Like Saint Augustine said, as he watched a blazing sunset plunge into the glimmering seas of North Africa:

“If these are the beauties afforded to sinful man, what does God have in store for those who love Him?”

Yes, indeed. What beauty and glory is reserved for those who know and love Him through Christ? Those eternal glories will make the natural wonders of Hawaii, the thrill of sports victory, and even the gift of sex taste like cardboard. There the Word of God, Jesus, the very self expression of the Father, will be communicated to us in ever increasing levels of glory forever and ever. Amen.

Bryan Daniels