By Galen Dalrymple
“Which is easier, to say ‘thy sins are forgiven’ or ‘take up thy bed and walk””? (Mark 2:9)
At this writing, I have been in Africa 36 days. My thoughts have often been filled with amazement at my African brothers’ and sisters’ faith and walk with the Lord. I have pondered and been troubled by it many times; mostly troubled, if truth be told.
I know that our faith is not a comparison game where only the one with the strongest faith wins the prize. I am infinitely grateful for that grace of God. I know that if that were the case that I would certainly be destined to lose.
I consider the struggles they face in their own lives: poverty that takes my breath away; persecution that goes way beyond anything that Americans face; appalling living conditions that make the term squalor sound luxurious; little or no access to medical care, transportation, or often electricity. Yet there they are, day after blazing hot-and-humid day, night after mosquito-laden night, out sharing the love of Christ with those who may kill them in the future if the chance presents itself.
And I ponder it. I think to myself that I don’t know if I could live the Christian life here – the cost seems to be far too high, the price/value equation seems out of kilter through earthly (or should I say this American’s) eyes. I consider how blessed I am to be returning to America in 18 more days where the Christian life is easier to live.
But is it? Is what we live in America 1) a Christian life, and 2) is it easier to be a Christian in America, or more difficult?
In considering the first question, the obvious answer is that only the Lord really knows at an individual level if the life we are living in the USA is really a Christian life. He alone is qualified to be the judge of so weighty a matter – a matter hidden deep in the invisible heart. We should be careful not to confuse living the Christian life with being a Christian. If being a Christian is simply a matter of accepting God’s gift of grace through faith in Christ, there are many who are Christians who will hear that “Welcome home!” on Judgment Day. I would argue, however, that living as a Christian is much more difficult than becoming one…and therein is the crux of the first question. The answer that I believe I see in my own life deeply disturbs me in comparison to how I see my African Christian siblings living out their faith – how they pour themselves out for others selflessly and continually.
The second question is perhaps even more difficult to answer. In one way it seems much easier to live life as a Christian believer in America. I fear, however, that we may have been deceived by the enemy. In Africa, things have been simplified, reduced to the fundamentals, the bare-bones (no pun intended), if you please. Things are pretty clear cut here. In America, some things are much more complicated.
Please understand that I do not mean to engage in America-bashing or “American Christian bashing” here, nor to canonize the Africans I spent 53 days with. I am merely reflecting my personal thoughts, for what they may, or may not, be worth.
In America, we still have the freedom of worship without the very real threat of radicals or rebels walking through the door and shooting the entire congregation, or barricading us into the building and then burning it (and us) to the ground. I am so grateful for this, as we all should be. But we also have so many things with the potential to draw us away from what is important regarding our faith.
The internet consumes so much of our time and attention and can be the gateway to many unhealthy things: covetousness, poor stewardship, slothfulness, sexual temptation and affairs (of either the on-line or in-the-flesh variety), the pursuit of wealth…you get the idea. The average American spends over 30 hours a week on the Internet (those between 18-29 years of age spend more than 40 hours a week – equivalent to a full time job!) and nearly three hours per day watching television. Couldn’t that time be more wisely spent? Materialism, houses, IRA’s/401K’s, liposuction, the idolatry of the famous athletes and movie stars, of power and appearance are so much more prevalent in the US than in Africa…at least in rural Africa, because the typical African doesn’t know a Lindsay Lohan from a tree, or a Michael Jordan from a fish. So the temptation to worship all those kinds of idols is far less in Africa than in the States.
To be sure, Africans may have daily food as an idol inasmuch as the pursuit of it occupies so much of their time and energy, but that is much more understandable than idolizing a young man or woman who can’t abide by the court’s order to stay off of drugs for even a month! Even in the bush, one person may idolize another person or a motorcycle or bicycle, but their expectations are much less and their hopes much simpler. There are simply fewer things to idolize and much less time to spend thinking of such things and imagining what life could be like. Daily survival is all they know and all they hope to achieve.
So what of my pondering the question regarding where it is more difficult to be a Christian? My conclusion is this: no matter where we live, Satan will see to it that it is not easy to follow Jesus. All we can do is to pray, seek the indwelling power of the Spirit to enable us, and to remember the words of Jesus when he told us: “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world“. (John16:33)
Galen Dalrymple works for Medical Ambassadors International (medicalambassadors.org) as the Field Curriculum Coordinator and lives in Northern California with his wife, Laurel, and yellow lab, Lucy. His passions are his family, photography, travel, and doing what he can to alleviate suffering and injustice as a call from Jesus.
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