austere faith, pastors, and modern silliness
In 1997, my wife and I went to a conference in Kansas City, Missouri. During a pastor s luncheon, the host introduced a pastor who was visiting from Cambodia. The pastor had just heard that his church elders had been lined up and shot by a death-squad. Now he was desperate to hear from his family. Could we please pray for him and his family? I watched the pastor. I was so impressed by this man s austere faith that it triggered a line of thinking in me that I ve never been able to shake. And it is this: I wanted what he had. Somehow, deep, deep down, I realized that I had to pare down my ministry, my teaching, to this utter simplicity. This man and his congregation were stripped down to a profound basic. They wouldn t be impressed with my fluffy superficialities. They wouldn t only see them as unnecessary, but dangerous. I figured right then: my faith has to be the kind of faith that can live in the worst of conditions. If I need luxury, magic, prosperity, public opinion, government sanctions, or whatever else I can think of, for my faith to survive, then there s something wrong. Do I have the kind of faith that can take up the cross and not take the offered narcotic (Matthew 27:34)? Around then I read Nien Cheng s book, LIFE AND DEATH IN SHANGHAI. You MUST read this book! She was put in solitary confinement during Mao Tse Tung s reign. She wrote: Throughout the years of my imprisonment, I had turned to God often and felt his presence. In the drab surroundings of the gray cell, I had known magic moments of transcendence that I had not experienced in the ease and comfort of my normal life. My belief in the ultimate triumph of truth and goodness had been restored, and I had renewed courage to fight on. My faith had sustained me in these darkest hours of my life and brought me safely through privation, sickness, and torture. At the same time, my sufferings had strengthened my faith and made me realize that God was always there. It was up to me to come to Him (p. 346). I had to admit right then that there was a lot of silliness around, in modern, western Christianity, my church, and my faith. But in the presence of this Cambodian pastor, it looked REALLY silly!