I recently went out to a shooting range with one of my best friends and my now-fiance. He had just gotten a new shotgun and wanted to try it out on some clay pigeons. She and I hadn’t had the opportunity to enjoy some fun shooting in a while, so we took him up on the offer.
Now I don’t know if you know this or not, but generally speaking, outdoor shotgun ranges are mostly made up of grass and trees and leaves, with a little bit of concrete and asphalt for the shooting stands and parking lots. I guess it’s meant to give off an impression of being out in actual nature and shooting at flying creatures. This impression is quickly lost though, as I am not familiar with any bird that imitates the neon orange, round-shape of a skeet disc.
But I digress; as we entered the small office to reserve our shooting stand, we heard someone come over the radio of one of the employees:
“Hey we just had a guy come and say that he lost his wallet a little while ago.”
Another person responded over the radio, “What does it look like?”
And without missing a beat, the responder replied, “Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to find that.”
We had a nice laugh about that; but I use the anecdote today to illustrate the difference in worlds that I have experienced in the past year. At the beginning of 2014, I found myself in a world full of neon orange, clay pigeons. But these days, I tend to find myself lost in a sea of camouflage wallets – to draw the very thin line between my story and my discussion point.
As most of you know, I got back from West Africa in July 2014 – nearly August. I had been overseas for about 10 1/2 months. While I was there, I was hungry a lot, I contracted malaria twice, living conditions were a good degree worse than they are here – even at their best, and I was often dehydrated, sunburned, and over-exhausted. I rarely had a good night’s sleep and at some of my lowest moments, I found myself wondering if I was going to come home. I and the rest of my team dealt with nightmares both in our dreams and in our everyday lives.
However, it wasn’t until I came back to the United States that I began fearing for my life.
It’s a hard feeling to really describe, but I’ll do my best.
You see, there were many times in Côte d’Ivoire when things were difficult, from a spiritual perspective. I ran into occasions where my pride or selfishness (sometimes both) was ruling my life and causing me to be ineffective for Jesus to those around me. But looking back now, these were problems that were really easy to recognize.
Moving to a country were my language did nothing to help me, where many everyday American comforts were no where to be found, and where I found myself completely alone even in large groups of people made me keenly aware of my absolute life-dependence on Jesus. Without Him, I was unable to do or say much of anything. So when I went through days and weeks of focusing on myself – concerned about my life and my life only – I could feel the lack of God’s presence. It was like losing my absolute best friend. There was feeling of total loss, like a hole inside of me that could not be filled.
In the same way, evil was very obvious. It was not so difficult to sense when evil was trying to oppress me (I even woke up on two separate occasions in the middle of the night with the clear sense that some spirit of fear was in my room). Knowing what I should and shouldn’t do when it came to glorifying God to the utmost was not so difficult, though acting on it was sometimes a challenge. The differences between evil and the goodness of God seemed to be quite stark in Côte d’Ivoire. It was like trying to find a neon-orange skeet disc against a brown-and-green background of foliage. One doesn’t really have to try to see it as long as they have their eyes open.
Coming back to the States has been a very different experience. From the very moment I walked into Dulles airport, I was overwhelmed by the “Be Your Way” and “Just Do It” slogans of Burger King and Nike along with many other individualistic catch phrases. Getting back to life in Dallas, I was immediately overwhelmed by the consumer culture of advertising, movies, television, and everywhere I looked it seemed that someone or something was telling me that I needed to make myself the most important person in my life. Everything seemed to be encouraging a selfish lifestyle.
The fast-food, customer satisfaction, vending machine, instant gratification culture that is prevalent throughout a majority of the Western world may not be bad. That’s not the argument I’m picking on here. What I do want to point out is that it can be dangerous.
As soon as I started re-acclimating myself with the culture of the United States, I found the security that I had in Côte d’Ivoire – one of confidence in the ability to spot evil and wrong easily – rapidly waning.
I think that’s because evil is so closely linked with all of the things we tend to enjoy. Instead of presenting itself as a demon-possessed girl in Boundjiali (true story), it presents itself as the temptation to be self-serving right alongside the self-serve Kiosks that are popping up in Chili’s and Applebees. Just like that camo wallet that some guy dropped on the ground at a shooting range, evil has found a way to blend right in with our culture, economy, and politics. Things that seem right can be so easily turned wrong – like going from having a firm-but-gentle stance against abortion to letting pro-life rallies and lobbyist events replace our God-given mandate to spread His love, not His law. We can so easily cross the line from being healthfully conscious about money matters to overworking for that American Dream, edging out both God and our families.
It’s not as hard to do as it sounds, and it can happen to the best of us.
Is there a solution? Not one that we can do ourselves. The best I can think of is to go, for a couple of months, to a third world country every year. But that’s impractically expensive. Either that, or we could try to live every minute of our lives trying to avoid any temptation. But this just isn’t possible.
We have to take back the basics of Christianity. Get back to what Jesus really intended for us to be about when He called us to be His adopted brothers and sisters under God. This means prioritizing Jesus first in our lives. Everything else comes second.
I have been morosely late to work several times these past few months because I woke up too late to read my Bible and still get to work on time. But Jesus has shown us that the life to come is real life – this one is merely a stepping stone. So it is more important that I read my Bible and pray than get to work on time. It is better for us to budget for tithing even if it means we have to cut something else. It is far better for us to participate in the church as an active member than to participate in a rally as an activist. It is even more important for us to have a nice pause in the middle of the day to worship God than it is to eat lunch. These aren’t things that will get us any closer to or any further away from heaven, but they are things that will keep us growing in our faith. And if our faith isn’t growing, it’s weakening.
If we start focusing our lives and our schedules around Jesus, not only will we protect ourselves from the evil that is far too easy to fall into, but we will also find ourselves being far more effective for God’s kingdom, spreading His love and His gospel all over the world. And that is the ultimate good.
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.
-Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis