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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Aynor's Churches: The Good,The Bad, & the Ugly.

 I grew up, in what I considered to be the buckle of the Bible Belt. It was a stigma I could live with. Honestly, I was proud  of it. I went to high school  in the little golden town of Aynor, S.C. Aynor, is a two stop light town, surrounded by family farms and rural area residents, who boastfully self proclaim the place to be, " God's Country".
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I remember pledging allegiance to the Bible, the Christian Flag, and the American Flag, during vacation Bible school. Promises, I intend to keep.

The South offers a culture and tradition enriched in hospitality, and honor. Church is a big part of that culture. The South affords a comfortable setting to become a "Christian". Then again, when did Christianity become comfortable? Honor and hospitality are cheif among social graces, but they offer no redemption for society. They introduce no grace for individuals. I fear, a false sense of spiritual security has infected our community. As biblical illiteracy increases in our congregations, our churches have become places of social interactions, rather than, places where souls are rescued. Acceptance now trumps repentance. It's not a style of worship that scares me. What's lacking is the of depth of teaching God's word. American worship now often requires an entertaining factor. We blur the line between the sensational and the spiritual. Not because of our style, because of the lack of devotion to the word of God. The South might be the Bible Belt, perhaps the increasingly unopened, definitely the unapplied, Bible Belt. Of all the ministry, I've been involved with, nothing has been met with more spiritual opposition than the effort to take God's word to our schools. I praise God for that. Mainly because His word tells us to. Not only for that, but because, I know this will cause growth.

For the last week, I have had more tgan  a taste of reality. I've had a helping helping. Here are some of the things I learned by helping bring a release time bible class to Aynor.


The Good:
There's lots of God's people in Aynor still committed to sharing the gospel by teaching the word of God. Call me old fashioned, but I'm pretty sure I can make a biblical case  for that being the only way. Of course, I'd have to use the Bible to do that.
Lots of people gave sacrificially and independently from church. A couple, who recently relocated from West Virginia, gave $1000.00. As far as I know, they have no family here.
Even one, unchurched, high school friend, sponsored a student for an entire year. In the thirty years we have known each other, nothing had caused us to hug or cry together. This did.
Of the few churches that gave, all gave overwhelmingly generous gifts, considering the size and dynamics of their congregations. It was refreshing to find people, who not only value God's word, but have faith in the promises found inside it. We now have enough money to fund the high school ministry. Prayers have been answered.

The Bad.
There are churches who would have liked to give in our area that could not. It's simple mathematics. In terms Bible Belt people will understand " you can't get blood out of a turnip ."  Low attendance is low offerings. I remember these places as once thriving.  Now they have the discouraging choices of advancing the kingdom through local missions or keeping the lights on. I fear, they have a harsh reality ahead of them. If you are a child of God worshipping at these facilities, you should not just leave. However, you should not just stay either. This world is not our home. Make sure what is keeping you there is more than the temporary sentimental mortar of what once was. Do not allow the bricks your grandfathers laid become an anchor in complacency.  Do not allow temporary walls to prevent pooling together  your eternal family's  resources. Make your foundation on the Rock of your salvation that calls you to rescue your brothers and sisters, who are still lost. The church, the true church, will sow seeds beyond the soil of it's southern traditions. They will plant beyond the graveyards of dying church campuses. We haven't even started funding our middle school. I pray for a vision and clarity for the church.
The Ugly.
There was an incredible lack of interest from some pastors and church leaders. To be fair, there were some legitimate concerns from some pastors who were being cautious. I get that,... well sorta. In my mind, all legitimate concerns were overly cautious at best, or lame excuses at worst. Any problem could have been worked out, provided they got involved with a passion to let the Word of God speak for itself. 
While I will not betray a confidence in those candid conversations to protect the congregations, I will tell you my thoughts on what I encountered. 
Some of it was a lack of interest. There were pastors who never even returned a phone call. Some of it was plain old pride. They couldn't lead and wouldn't follow. Some of it was laziness. They had means but lacked vision to press forward. One pastor friend said," I'm not going to support it,  it's personal." Seriously?  Over and over,  I heard, "we are already helping the Fellowship of Christian Athletes". I didn't know whether to ask them, "if they understood the difference or did that mean the kids who aren't in sports can go to hell?" There was plenty of ugly apathy to go around, but the most alarming fact is some pastors weren't simply unsupportive. Some rather seemingly opposed this effort. 

The ugliest person I've found  in all of this has been myself.  Constantly, I've questioned my conscious , asking God to prevent me from having a judging self righteous spirit. 
I keep telling myself, I don't know hearts or where people are in their walks. I can only judge fruits not hearts. I can and must stand on God's promises while falling on God's graces. Yet, I still found myself, for the first time in my life, feeling like a liar. I have been blatantly dishonest to my friends. I pretended to be understanding while I'm totally oblivious as to why they won't help. I can't understand the lack of passion or urgency in the heart of people, who say they belong to God, for evangelizing the youth of its own community outside its doors. If it were any other mission, I might could understand. These young people belong to us. These are our responsibility. We are supposed to be brothers and sisters devoted to God, His word, and His people. If we can set aside our differences to cheer and support the same school athletes, but cannot collectively minister and deliver the word of God to all our youth, then heaven help us. What are we worshipping? What are we teaching? 

wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?
by taking heed thereto according to thy word. 
psalm 119.9 ". 

If this is God's Country, His people will sow His seed and reap His harvest here. 

Please continue to pray for this effort. 

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