In the south, life is typically more simple. I’ve lived in other regions where it’s hard to tell whether or not you’re good enough friends to invite someone over for dinner. In the south, they just invite you.
Have you ever wondered, “should I say something to the person passing by me? Should I wave? Make eye contact?” In my experience, here it’s cool if you do all three.
Food is simple here. Pretty much everything pairs with everything else. Sometimes we just stick it all in the same pan.
I love it. There’s a simplicity almost everywhere here.
Surprisingly, the one thing that gets complicated and sometimes just confusing is people’s idea of the Christian life. It’s an area that’s lacking the simple energy we put into everything else.
Last week at the grocery store an older lady, while on the phone, handed my wife a gospel tract while she was walking down the aisle. She didn’t stop to explain it or answer any questions. She just tapped my wife on the shoulder and with concerned eyes whispered “this is for you." The entire time she was in conversation on her phone. My wife said she didn’t hand a tract to anyone else in the aisle.
This left my wife pretty confused. Why me? Why does she think I’d follow Christ if only I had a pamphlet? And if she was concerned enough to hand me some literature, why didn’t she get off her phone and talk to me?
Recently, a friend of mine brought a church website to my attention. The church is a gospel preaching church which has seen thousands of people accept Christ. They love the Bible.
I think that’s why we both found it odd that on their website they advertised a 90 day tithing challenge. Here’s the deal: you could try tithing for 90 days and if you didn’t feel blessed by it the church would give you your money back.
Here’s where it gets really confusing - the pastor of this church teaches that it’s a commandment from God that we tithe.
Just imagine doing that with any other commandment!
"The Bible says don’t commit adultery so we’re doing the fidelity challenge. Stay true to your wife for 90 days, and if you don’t like it, then we’ll help you set up a profile on a dating website and you can make up for lost time."
Last but not least, I was told by a friend of mine that a guest preacher came to speak at her church. While preaching, he publicly (in front of the congregation) called out one of the members (sitting in the second row) for having tattoos. He said that they were sinful to have and that this person shouldn’t have gotten them.
If I was that person, I’d be pretty confused. Like what do I do? They don’t just wash off.
Here’s what I’m learning in this glorious land that I truly love: That the simple Bible Belt can be used to whip people into confusion.
We’re often wondering about the people in the jungle who have never heard. Make no mistake, a similar darkness attempts to cover those of us who have heard all our lives. We are in a place where we have so much Jesus we’re constantly searching for the "real one” which, at times, can be almost as difficult as not knowing who he is at all.
What we don’t need is a better preacher, a better church or a wannabe blogger (i.e. me). We don’t need to follow another guy who promises “the truth.”
We need to humbly accept the Jesus right under our nose, and quit putting our own ideas into his mouth.
What passage does everyone take you to when you ask the question about the people in the jungle who have never heard the gospel?
And what does Romans 1 say?
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For this invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So that they are without excuse."
The important things about God are simple. They're easy enough to find that going on a hike in the Carolinas can reveal them to you if you’re looking closely enough.
What happens when we have so much church is that our pride gets in the way. Rather than just allowing others to enjoy God, we use church as a way to fulfill our lusts of being right, interesting, needed and authoritative. This makes everything confusing. I feel like many of us southern Christians are just as idolatrous as the people Paul speaks of in this passage.
"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."
All they had to do was honor him and give him thanks. But instead they chose idols. And we have done the same thing - our idols just have steeples on them.
Of course the passage goes onto say that God “gave them up” to their idols. And I would say many of us in this region are suffering from the same thing. Refusing to enjoy the simple gospel and letting our ideas become king, we have now become a land of people who are following their pastor, but not following Jesus. And we're confused because we're not experiencing the fullness of God’s love.
But there is hope. And that hope lies with Jesus drawing you and me back to humbly accept his simple truths and our willingness to humbly accept our simple duty of loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourself - even if that means our church preferences need to become less of what fills our souls.
With this humility will come grace. And that grace will make us a region known not for our confusing hyper-religious culture with all of its goofy stories, but for a place that is simply not ashamed of the gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation. Like everything else we do, let’s keep it simple.