Monday, January 26, 2009

You need to read this!

This remarkable editorial appeared in The Times of London recently. It's remarkable because Matthew Parris, the writer, grew up in Africa. So when he says "Africa needs God," he knows what he's talking about. But mostly, it's remarkable because Matthew Parris is an atheist.

Check it out by clicking here.

As Christians, this article ought to inspire us in several ways:

1. It's encouraging to know that when Jesus transforms someone, they are made new in a way that even a confirmed unbeliever cannot deny. Let's remember that as we share our faith: We're not just hoping to add people to our church. We are hoping to bring them new life.

2. It's discouraging to think that most of the millions of Christians in our own country don't seem to have the same effect on unbelievers as these African Christians do. Whereas they "let their light shine before men so that they would see (their) good works and glorify their Father in heaven," we tend to inspire feelings of resentment from those who don't believe as we do. They see African Christians as people who are "lively" and winsome. They see us as arrogant, judgmental, hypocritical and hateful. Is it any wonder that church growth experts say the global center of Christianity will soon be Africa, Asia and South America, and North America and Europe will be the mission field? Could it be any more clear that we need revival in our land?

3. Perhaps most of all, this article should be a reminder to us of the importance of world missions. WBC recently took up a large world mission offering, and I was so excited that we met our goal! But let's not allow this to be the only time of year we think about, pray for, and contribute to mission work. God's Kingdom is on the move, liberating and transforming people He loves. And we get to be a part of that!

Please take time to read the article, if you haven't already. I predict you'll be encouraged, inspired and challenged as I was.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reaching for the Prize: Maintain the Momentum

We're in the next-to-last week of our spiritual formation campaign. If you have been keeping up with your workbook, you should now have identified some areas of your life where transformation is needed. If you've fallen behind, let me encourage you to get back to it. And if you haven't yet begun, please start ASAP! There's a pdf copy of the workbook on our website (at the bottom of the home page) or you can get a "hard" copy from me this Sunday.

Last week, we talked about how transformation happens. We choose to mortify (put to death) areas of sin in our lives, to imitate Christ in taking on His character traits, and to identify with Him in all that we do. This Sunday, we'll look at another great passage of Scripture, Hebrews 12:1-2, and we'll actually get down to practical matters. This message will challenge each of us to identify things in our lives we need to get rid of, stuff we need to put more focus on, and people we can count on to inspire us.

A few years ago, I was completing my classwork for a doctoral degree. The last thing on the agenda was a Ministry Project (which is what my degree required instead of a dissertation). Our professor said, "Let me encourage you to follow through with this. Most of the people who quit the doctoral program quit at this point." That statement stunned me. Why would someone put in all of that work (and money) only to quit when the starting line is in sight? Thankfully, with the encouragement of my wife and a few friends, I finished. So now let me give you the same challenge: Having come this far in Reaching for the Prize, don't quit now. Don't make this all merely an academic exercise. Finish strong. Put together a real spiritual growth strategy that will change your life for the better. I believe in you! See you Sunday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Today a new president takes office in Washington, DC. It is a historic day for many reasons, but as Americans, it is a day to pray with particular fervency.

First of all, we need to give God our thanks. We live in a unique nation, where power has always been transferred peacefully. Even in 1876, when Rutherford B. Hayes beat Samuel Tilden by one electoral vote; even in 2000, when "hanging chads" and other disputes kept the result of the election in doubt for weeks, there were no threats of armed revolt. No one tried to take the presidency by force. Last night, President-elect Obama and Senator McCain spoke graciously of one another at a public event. McCain said, "He's our president. His success is our success." As I type this, the small TV in my office is showing the Obamas being warmly greeted by the Bushes. In our violent world, such a peaceful transfer of power is all too rare.

We should give thanks also that we live in a country where a man from a minority background can be elected president. This of course has not always been the case in America. Racial equality in our nation has been hard-earned and is still not fully realized. But this election confirmed many of the best things we want to believe about America--that this is indeed a land of opportunity.

But we also should offer up intercessory prayers for our new leaders. In our partisan political system, we often give in to the notion that our political opposite is our enemy. We forget that, ultimately, we're on the same team. As Christians, we should take seriously Paul's words in Romans 13, where he said that earthly governments are God's tool to promote justice and righteousness and to punish evil. Peter commanded us to pray for our earthly leaders. Keep in mind that when those sage apostles wrote, the earthly rulers to whom they subjected themselves and for whom they diligently prayed were pagan Roman emporers. How much more should we lift up DAILY our president and his leaders? If they govern with courage and wisdom, then we all win. And so we should pray that they would have wisdom to make good choices, courage to do what is right even when it's not politically expedient, and physical protection for themselves and their families.

But most of all, we should remember to pray for revival in our land. As important as a president may be (he's not called The Most Powerful Man in the World for nothing), his significance pales in comparison to that of the Body of Christ. We, who are called by the name of Christ, are His Light, His Salt in this world that so desperately needs it. And we have not represented Him well in recent years. I will not take the time to enumerate our various failings, or the ills of society that have come about because of our spiritual mediocrity. But let's all agree that we need revival...we need a fresh touch of God's Spirit, leading to confession, repentance, and a real transformation. We need, in Ezekiel's terms, to see the dry bones of our faith come back to life again, so that once more we can show people the real Hope of the world.

And so may it be, Lord. Amen.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Reaching for the Prize: Change is Possible

If you have spent (or wasted) any time on Youtube, you have probably seen the "Charlie Bit Me," video. It's the "Citizen Kane" of Youtube. If you have better things to do with your time than watch amateur videos, you perhaps haven't seen this minute-long scene. Do yourself a favor; check it out here.

Now ask yourself this question: Why did little Harry keep sticking his finger in little Charlie's mouth? He experienced tremendous pain...yet he kept doing it. It sort of reminds me of myself...I have certain traps I continually stumble into, temptations that repeatedly ensnare me. When I give in to these temptations, it produces real pain and terrible guilt. One would think I would structure my life in such a way that I would never commit those same sins again. Yet not long after the pain is gone, there I am again, sticking my finger in Charlie's mouth. Can any of you identify?

I'm sure you can. Is it really possible for us to change? Absolutely. This Sunday, as we continue in our study of Reaching for the Prize (download the workbook here) we will look at a fantastic passage of Scripture: Colossians 3:5-17. Change isn't just possible; it's essential. You and were created to be transformed, like a caterpillar was made to be a butterfly. This Sunday, we'll look at the nuts and bolts of how that transformation happens.

School Adoption Update

Well, we're almost there! Late last summer, WBC began working on the McNamara Elementary School campus with a landscaping project. Since then, we've had volunteer readers in classes and volunteers at the Fall Festival on campus. One of our Sunday School departments sent a basket of goodies to the teachers and staff. We've helped the school buy uniforms for kids who couldn't afford them. We've helped a couple of teachers with the cost of their post-Ike repairs. We've paid for Christmas presents that were given to several of the students as well. But all along, the centerpiece of our school adoption effort has been mentoring. We wanted to be on campus on a weekly basis, helping students and teachers in the name of Christ. We had hoped to get that effort started in the fall, but Hurricane Ike and administrative details slowed us down. If you are one of our prospective volunteer mentors, I greatly appreciate your patience so far.

Earlier this week, Mr. Renfro from McNamara sent me an exciting email. All of our prospective mentors have been approved. We can begin mentoring on the campus immediately. All we must do is go to the front desk, and they will send us to the right classroom. If you are one of those mentors, please let me know, via a phone call or email, how your visit went.

In the meantime, we will hold a mentor training event here at WBC on Thursday, January 22 at 10 AM. A representative from Communities in Schools will lead the training. If you are able to be here, I'm sure it will be a worthwhile time. The event will be held in room C-109.

One more thing: Mr. Renfro would like for us to sponsor a Cub Scout pack here at WBC. Apparently, there are a number of boys at McNamara who would be interested in scouting. This would be a great way for us to reach out to these boys and their families, to get them on our church campus and to share Christ's love with them. But in order for this to work, we need some good adult leaders. If you are interested in starting a Cub Scout pack here and inviting boys from McNamara to be a part, please let me know.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reaching for the Prize: God's Gym

Have you ever tried, really hard, to adjust your thought life? Try this little experiment: For thirty seconds, try not to think about red monkeys. Take your watch and see if you can banish the image of red monkeys from your mind for half a minute. Are you ready? Go.

If you're like most of us, the very first thing that popped into your mind when the experiment began was a bright crimson babboon. The harder we try NOT to think about something, the more likely we will be to dwell on it. This is why it is so difficult to overcome thought patterns of worry, fear, lust, anger, or doubt.

It's true of other areas of sin as well...from lying to swearing to losing our temper, we can't seem to change simply by trying hard. John Ortberg, in his book The Life You've Always Wanted, says instead of trying, we ought to be training. He puts it this way: If you were going to run a marathon, would you simply roll out of your recliner one day and drive to the race? That would be a recipe for failure. No matter how hard you might try, you couldn't go straight from a sedentary lifestyle to running 26 miles. Instead, you would have to spend months training for the race, little by little, until you had built up the strength and stamina it takes to complete a marathon.

In our quest to become like Christ, we have to start training for righteousness, not just trying "really hard" to overcome sin. That idea didn't come from Ortberg, it came from God. In 1 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul urges us to train ourselves to be godly. The word "train" he uses (in the NIV) is the Greek word gymnazo, from which we get our English word gymnasium. What does it mean to train for godliness? What kind of gym does God operate? Those are the questions we'll explore this Sunday at 10:30.

By the way, if you haven't yet started our Reaching for the Prize study, we'll have more workbooks ready to hand out this Sunday. Make sure you get one. The study is also posted as a pdf file on our website (