Historical ignoramus that I was, it didn’t dawn on me until years later that countless faithful believers have died through the ages from sickness, accidents, attacks or persecution while serving the Lord. Was I supposed to get a special exemption when they didn’t?
I still occasionally rely on the magic force field idea to help me get through turbulent plane flights. It’s not faith; it’s a mental trick to keep me from running up and down the aisle screaming, “We’re all gonna die!”
Lots of otherwise reasonable Christians depend on various shortcuts, myths and spiritual distortions to get through the day. Often we buy into such counterfeits to avoid trusting God and obeying Him. California pastor/author Larry Osborne addresses some of them in his book, “10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe” (Multnomah, 2009).
At least five of the myths Osborne identifies affect how we respond to God’s call to take the Gospel to the world:
* “Faith can fix anything.”
Faith in an ever-faithful God sustains us moment by moment as we follow Him. But it doesn’t “fix” everything the way we want it fixed. Nor does God. He is concerned with accomplishing His will, not ours.
Faith is not “an impenetrable shield that protects us from life’s hardships and trials,” Osborne writes. “It’s not a magic potion that removes every mess. It’s a map we follow. … It’s designed to guide us on a path called righteousness. Along the way, it doesn’t promise to fix every flat tire.”
That applies to daily life — and to missions. Missionaries get a lot of flat tires. Cross-cultural ministry entails endless frustrations, hassles, confusion, misunderstanding and discouragement. The payoff might not come for years, even generations. But it will come. The Word of God does not return void.
* “God has a blueprint for my life.”
A blueprint contains detailed instructions for building an entire structure (i.e., life). God gives us guidance for today and asks us to trust Him for tomorrow. Thinking too far beyond that brings little but anxiety.
“The starting place for finding God’s will is obeying the commands and instructions we already know” from His Word, Osborne reminds his readers. “The pathway of obedience always leads to further light.”
If God tells you to go to a strange, possibly hostile place or culture with no guarantee of success or safe return — no blueprint, in other words — how will you respond?
* “Christians shouldn’t judge.”
How convenient. If we redefine Christ’s command not to condemn sinners (when we are sinners ourselves) to mean that we cannot call good and evil what they are, we have surrendered to evil.
Osborne: “Underlying the idea that we have no right to judge the beliefs and moral standards of others is another widely held belief. It’s the dogma that truth and morality are relative. … If we refuse to label the behaviors Jesus called sin, sin, we’re disagreeing with Jesus, not following Jesus.”
We’re also undermining His mandate to make disciples among all peoples. If the world isn’t lost in sin, what’s the point of preaching the Gospel of salvation?
* “A valley means a wrong turn.”
“Most of us understand that hardships (even long-term hardships) are a natural part of life,” Osborne acknowledges. “But something fundamentally changes when the deep and lengthy valley is our valley. The truths we so easily accept in theory and so quickly apply to others become difficult to fathom in our own life.”
Valleys, especially ones that pass through the shadow of death, force us to trust God or despair. In missions, deep valleys often come before mountaintop breakthroughs.
* “Dead people go to a better place.”
Really? All of them? Jesus spoke of the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who reject God. He spoke of the narrow path to heaven and the wide highway to hell.
“To our modern-day sensibilities, the exclusivity of Christ, the reality of hell, and the need for salvation that includes personal piety have all become passé, if not downright offensive,” Osborne says. “And it’s not just our culture that rejects these ideas; so do many Christians. …
“The cross and salvation are central to the Gospel. Once we lose any real concept of hell, the natural consequence is more than just putting us at odds with Scripture; it eventually devalues the cross, redefines salvation, and turns obedience into an extra-credit spiritual add-on.”
The Bible is a hard book to read in our day. It contains judgments, absolutes and non-negotiable commands — as well as the words of the Lord’s abounding grace, love and mercy.
It’s not the message we want to hear. It’s what we need to hear.