BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Americans are squeamish when it comes to the notion of suffering as the call of God because most of them believe comfort to be an inalienable right, an International Mission Board worker said during the 22nd annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference.
The American culture is one of entitlement that views safety, health and security as fundamental rights, but that is not how Christians should think, he said.
The worker urged conference attendees to view life through the lens of eternity in the vein of the Apostle Paul who, in 1 Corinthians 4, called suffering “momentary light affliction” compared to the glory of his eternal heritage.
The IMB worker, who works in a restricted access area and cannot be identified for security reasons, was one of the keynote speakers during the July 13-16 conference at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., with the theme of “The Fellowship of His Sufferings.”
Founders is an organization founded in 1982 for the perpetuation of historic Calvinistic doctrines within the Southern Baptist Convention often referred to as “the doctrines of grace.”
“We live in a culture of entitlement,” the worker said. “And it is just amazing how powerful and pervasive that is. It is all the more powerful because it is usually not even articulated. It’s just there. It’s part of the air that we breathe.
“And we see it profoundly overseas as people come out of this culture and find themselves living in settings that are a little less easy on them. Americans regard themselves as having a right to be comfortable.”
The worker, himself a U.S. citizen, said America’s self-indulgent assumptions were never more clearly demonstrated than the period immediately following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
While America prides itself on being something of a safe haven, the worker said he feels a greater degree of safety for his children in countries other than the United States because his home country has become something of a hostile environment toward children.
“It was really interesting to watch the reaction in the States from overseas right after 9/11,” he said. “It was like, ‘How dare they do it here.’ But what does being here [in the United States] have to do with anything? …
“I am much more nervous about them here than I am anywhere [else] in terms of the [American] culture and how it regards children and the things that are sometimes done to children.”
The worker said people often ask him if particular overseas missions fields are safe. Invariably, the answer is “no,” he said, but Gospel missions is not a place for a person who views safety and comfort as a God-given right.
Contrary to views popular within American culture and even the evangelical church, a call to the ministry is not a call to comfort, safety and self-indulgence, the worker said. Most non-American cultures know that comfort and safety are not a fundamental human right, he said.
“We live in a culture that has trouble grasping delayed gratification, much less denied gratification,” he said. “This is cultural orthodoxy and it is powerful. It is also delusional. Most of the world knows better automatically.
“Most of the world knows that they don’t have the right to comfort or to health or to safety or to security and certainly not to self-indulgence. Those are blessings, not rights.”
He warned ministers against falling into the trap of preaching a pseudo-gospel that is nothing more than a baptized version of the so-called American dream.
“We have to be very careful, as ministers, that we don’t simply become chaplains of the American dream,” he said. “It is so easy to do…. [B]ecause our cultural tendency is so strong to think of comfort and safety and security as being supreme values, simply our silence on the central role of suffering in the Christian life becomes a tacit endorsement.
“We have got to be careful that we present the biblical picture of the Christian life in all of its culturally heretical dimensions … so don’t be surprised at the fiery trial that comes upon you. Don’t be surprised at suffering. Don’t let it catch you off-guard. Learn to expect it. Learn to think it is normal. Learn to think of it as a friend.”
He pointed out that James 1:2 instructs the believer to “count it all joy when you encounter various trials.” But how is a believer to do that while living in a culture that night and day pedals self-indulgence? The key is a transformed value system, he said.
“The real key to it is to honestly look at why am I afraid that [suffering] will happen,” he said. “I have to ask myself, ‘What am I going to lose and why do I value that? What does the Gospel call on me to value instead?’
“It ultimately comes down to this: Do I value continued physical existence as the supreme value in my life? If I am an atheist it makes sense to think that way. As a Christian, it makes absolutely no sense to think that way. We have to come back again and again to the realization that nothing can be taken from us that matters eternally.
“The process of losing those things can be uncomfortable, to say the least. But the glory of the Gospel is that God has already settled all eternal issues in our favor: that the worst thing that can happen to me is that I [may] be sent into the indescribable joy and glory of the presence of Jesus. That’s the worst thing they can do to me. I have to remember that over and over again … and so must we all.”
Next year’s Southern Baptist Founders Conference will be held at Riverbend Church in Ormond Beach, Fla., near Daytona Beach, July 12-15. The theme will be “The Gospel and the Family” with keynote speakers Tedd and Paul David Tripp. The Tripps are well-known around the evangelical world for their books on family and raising children. Perhaps most popular is Tedd Tripp’s book “Shepherding a Child’s Heart.”