In the Bible there is a story of a guy who was chopping wood, and the axe head flew off into the water…and sank. This is a fairly bland, normal story until a prophet makes the metal object float to the top of the water much to the relief of the guy who had borrowed it from a friend.
I will hopefully come back to our axe example but first allow me to fast-forward a few millennia where the science of buoyancy has been seemingly mastered even in churches. Someone mentioned to me recently what they saw as the tendency of some North American Christian leaders to not readily ask for advice, much less acknowledge that they need help with church issues. At the same time, leaders in other parts of the world more readily ask for and are able to receive input. As a missionary who has lived on both sides of the fence this caught my attention. Is it cultural pride that hinders some of my countrymen? I venture to offer an alternative explanation.
When I became a missionary in Ukraine in 1993 I had been married for a little over two years, and we had a 9-month old daughter. I was out trailblazing every day while my equally gifted and adventurous wife initially had to stay home in a small apartment in a foreign land. Not only this, but she had no friends, there were no malls, we had no car, we could not find a crib – the kid slept in the largest suitcase, open of course – we had cloth diapers and the soviet washing machine – probably a former tank engine – was broken.
Much of what helped to make my wife happy in the US was now missing, so she had to look to me for it all. I admittedly fell short, and any illusion that I had of being a great husband was sorely put to the test. The fact of the matter is that what “floated” some of our family health and happiness in the US was now gone, and we had to swim a lot harder to stay afloat.
Now we are back in the US for a season, but we are still passionate about The Great Commission and a wee-bit wiser after 19 years in missions. I have also come to see something in my sending country that I could not have seen unless I had left and returned. There is an unnatural buoyancy caused by North American Christendom that makes us think we can swim better than we can. Like a child in the deep end of the pool wearing water wings we are relying on something that if never removed can delude us into thinking we are better swimmers than we really are.
In fact, there is enough buoyancy – latent Christianity – that I can start a church based on flimsy strategies, clever advertising and still expect some level of success. People love new stuff, and “if you build it they will come.” Easter Sundays and Christmas service spikes can fuel the illusion, and the church-split down the road can bring in a much needed second wind of new people for the weary swimmer.
There are even growing churches that have little or no evangelism, few baptisms and zero discipleship. The Titanic just steams ahead, rams through icebergs and with so many neighboring ships who needs serious help or an S.O.S. call?
But when I am facing a post-Christian or alien culture – and this is happening in the US of A – there is no buoyancy, and I will sink or float based on the power of the word of God and the faith He has given me to carry out His Commission based on His principles. Without God’s involvement my tendency is to sink like the axe head even on my best days, so I become very eager for God’s people to speak into what I am doing. It actually comes quite natural after a while even for an American. Even healthy and pleasant.
On a personal note I cannot bear the thought that God might show me on that final day that all I did in life was to move around and repackage the remnant works of other men. I am compelled to reach those who do not know God, and in this quest the mirages of men and the allusions & delusions of recycled works will never satisfy.
The stakes are too high for me to be self-confident in my Christian water wings as the untold millions for whom Christ died are yet to be reached. The axe head in the grand scheme of things is the work of God, and I must return it to Him one day. I don’t want to have to say, “oops, it flew off the handle and sank.” Before this happens you still have the opportunity to ask a man or woman of God to help save what you are trying to do for Jesus.