Friday, January 29, 2010

Stages: Multiplying

A few weeks ago on a TV news show, Britt Hume had the audacity to suggest that the best thing Tiger Woods could do is to become a Christian and find redemption. This created a firestorm of controversy. Some criticized Hume for suggesting that Christianity is better than Buddhism. Some sarcastically asked if he was saying Christianity is the perfect religion for adulterers, because you can cheat on your wife all you want and God has to forgive you. Some asked why Hume, a man who is himself divorced, thought he had the right to counsel Woods on his marriage. The entire issue reminded us that, in our very tolerant age, where almost nothing is taboo anymore, one commandment still holds: Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself. Don’t try to convince me, or anyone else, to believe like you do.

For most Christians today, it's very tempting to obey that command, isn’t it? After all, we don’t want to offend anyone. We’ve all known people who were obnoxious about evangelism; people who argued about religion and called it witnessing, or people who were pushy and judgmental. Why not just practice our own faith quietly, privately, and let God worry about the rest? As we talk about the stages in the Christian life, we’ve seen how God wants us to go from denying Him to seeking Him, to coming into His family and learning about what it means to follow Him, and then to the stage where we’re actually contributing to His work. But can we just stop there? Doesn't the Great Commission, and in fact the entire New Testament, teach us that God wants us to multiply? How can we share our faith authentically and effectively in a world that shuns absolute truth? This Sunday, we'll take a look at a man named Philip in Acts 8, and discover God's heart for people.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Stages: Contributing

When Carrie and I were getting married, like most couples we made a wedding registry. We registered for all sorts of elegant, expensive pieces of china, crystal and silver. I thought it was all a colossal waste of time. But Carrie’s friends were well-off. To my shock, we got almost everything on our list. We still have it…stored away in cabinets, or set up for display on a dresser. I keep promising Carrie someday I’ll get her a nice China cabinet so she can at least see these beautiful dishes and stemware. Maybe someday, I'll keep that promise.

When it comes to following Christ, we need to be more like Tupperware than like Waterford. There’s no such thing as heirloom Tupperware, is there? God doesn’t want china, crystal or sterling silver saints. He wants something He can use. We’re meant to work, not sit up on a pedestal to be seen. We're saved for a purpose, and that purpose is more meaningful that sitting as passive audience members in a church building while some guy preaches.

As we serve, an amazing thing happens: We find our unique role in God's Kingdom. We discover the amazing spiritual gifts that He has embedded within us. There's nothing that quite compares to doing what you were created to do. When we find it, that "sweet spot" in ministry, we've entered yet another stage in our growth toward Christ: Contributing to His work. This week, we'll continue our series by looking at a man named Barnabas, who made a huge contribution to the early Church...and whose work for the Lord is still bearing fruit 2000 years later. We'll talk about how you and I can find our sweet spot, too.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Was Pat Robertson right?

Note: This essay is from Jim Denison's daily God Issues email. I thought this was a very effective, biblical response to Pat Robertson's comments regarding the reason for the disaster in Haiti. If you're not aware of what Robertson said, the comments are included in this essay. Here's Jim Denison's response, without further comment from me:

Haiti and the devil (part one)

Is God punishing Haiti for worshipping the devil? I was preparing this morning's essay on the crisis in Haiti when I heard the story on the morning news: Pat Robertson has claimed that Haiti made a pact with Satan for which they are now facing the wrath of God.

I immediately changed topics to investigate the story. My research on the historical background behind this alleged pact is taking longer than I imagined, so I'll give you what I'm learning in tomorrow's essay. For today, let's consider Robertson's statement in biblical perspective.

We begin with Rev. Robertson's actual statement as I transcribed it from the video clip: "Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third or whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Okay, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out, you know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor." He went on to contrast Haiti's poverty with the Dominican Republic's prosperity and called on the Haitians to turn to God.

I need to make four biblical responses.

First, God loves the suffering people of Haiti. He cares passionately for the poor and oppressed. His word tells us, "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done" (Proverbs 19:17). The Lord said of King Josiah, "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" (Jeremiah 22:16).

The alleged pact with the devil in 1791 would put our Father on the side of slavery and Satan on the side of those seeking freedom. The reverse is actually the case. Satan is a "murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44), a thief who "comes only to steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10) and seeks to make us "slaves to sin" (Romans 6:17). Satan enslaves-God liberates.

Second, the Haitians are suffering because we are all fallen people living on a fallen planet. In the Garden of Eden, this tragedy would not have occurred. In God's perfect plan there would have been no Hurricane Katrina, no tsunami in southeast Asia, no cancer or heart disease or earthquakes. But when we fell into sin, the entire planet was affected. As a result, "the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" (Romans 8:22). The earthquake is not the Haitians' fault. God cares for their pain as his own.

Third, God's people must respond. We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12), his hands and feet. He will help the suffering Haitians through us. Give to help the relief effort; go if you can; pray fervently. Don't speculate on the causes of this crisis-respond personally and practically.

Last, I must state that Robertson's statement is unbridled audacity. Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, told a television reporter that it is "arrogance" to claim that we can interpret such events as divine judgment. Franklin Graham told the media that "I do not agree" with the comments, and was right to add, "God loves the people of Haiti." As we will see tomorrow, Robertson should have checked his sources before making his allegation. Scripture calls us to "test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

Pray now for the Haitians. Ask God to redeem this horrific tragedy for his glory and their good. Know that God is love (1 John 4:8), and prove his compassion with your own. This is the word, and the call, of God.

Learning About God

Your nature is a hard thing to change; it takes time…. I have heard of people who have life-changing, miraculous turnarounds, people set free from addiction after a single prayer, relationships saved where both parties "let go, and let God." But it was not like that for me. For all that "I was lost, I am found," it is probably more accurate to say, "I was really lost. I'm a little less so at the moment." And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting the computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.

That, in my opinion, is a very thoughtful look at the Christian life. Do you know who said that? It wasn't a preacher, theologian, or Christian author. It was Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, the stage name he uses as lead singer of the rock band U2.

I don't really know much about Bono's spiritual life, but what he says there is more accurate, more biblical than what you hear from so many preachers. The Christian life is not over when we accept Christ as our Savior. At that point, the journey has only begun. We are justified in a moment, but God makes us holy over the course of a lifetime. As we consider the stages of our relationship with Christ, we've already talked about what it means to live as if God doesn't exist. Last week, we explored the stage of seeking God. This Sunday, we'll talk about what happens after we first believe, and how we as Christ-followers can grow into His image.

Response to the Disaster in Haiti

The following is from an email sent by the International Mission Board. Jim Brown, head of Baptist Global Response, is quoted in the article. He is the brother of our own Beverly McDaniel, and has attended WBC several times recently.

Southern Baptists mobilize to help earthquake victims

Southern Baptists are mobilizing to assess disaster relief needs after the largest earthquake in more than 200 years rocked Haiti the evening of Jan. 12.
The initial Southern Baptist disaster relief effort will be led by Florida Baptists, who have had ministry relationships in Haiti for more than 20 years and currently have six staff members who live and work in the country, said Jim Brown, U.S. director for Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development organization. The International Mission Board does not have long-term personnel stationed in the country.

Initial funding for the relief effort will be provided by the IMB’s disaster relief fund. You can contribute to the disaster response effort at
The North American Mission Board’s disaster relief office is organizing an emergency consultation with state disaster relief directors to coordinate response to the catastrophe, Brown said. Disaster relief teams in Mississippi and Kentucky are on standby for immediate response.

An assessment team is being organized by Baptist Global Response, IMB, NAMB and state convention disaster relief directors to enter the country as soon as possible, Brown said. They will work with Haitian Baptists to identify immediate needs that must be addressed and will draft mid- and long-term plans for an ongoing relief effort.

The 7.0 magnitude tremor hit 10 miles from the center of Port-au-Prince, a city of 3 million people, at around 5 p.m. Jan. 12, according to news reports. One source said the quake could be felt more than 200 miles away. The earthquake triggered a tsunami watch for Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

Multiple strong aftershocks continued to rock the country after the initial tremor, said David Brown, who with his wife, Jo, directs BGR work in the Americas. Reports from inside the country indicate infrastructure and many buildings suffered catastrophic damage. The main airport is closed; power and communications are down and security is a serious concern. Specialized search and rescue teams and military units from several countries are being rushed into Haiti to help secure the situation and begin relief efforts.

Apart from donating to the disaster relief effort via, you can help greatly by joining in focused prayer for Haiti’s 9 million people, more than 80 percent of whom live below the poverty line, said David Brown.
“Please pray for us as we assess and monitor the situation in Haiti after the 7.0 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks this evening,” Brown said. “The initial information indicates 2 million people in Port-au-Prince are directly affected. Please pray for victims and their families. Pray for wisdom as responses are initiated.”

The situation in Haiti is very fluid and additional information will continue to flow in on a daily basis, Brown said. Updates will be released as new information becomes available.

Prayer updates will also be available.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Seeking God

Warren Buffet is one of the most successful investors in the world today, and one of the richest men on the planet. He has also become quite a philanthropist in recent years. In 2005, he decided to raise money for his charitable foundation by auctioning off lunch with himself. The winning bid was $351,000. That is how much people are willing to pay to spend an hour with a bright financial mind.

How much more would it be worth to spend time with the King and Creator of all that exists? The good news is that it doesn't cost us anything. Jesus has already paid the price for our access to God through His death on the cross, so we can "boldly approach the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16)."

But there are many who sincerely desire to know God and His will for their lives who never accept that access. Many are adherents of other faiths, but many still--especially in this country--are not involved with any organized religion. Some have been burned by religion in the past, but cannot shake the idea that God is real and has a plan for their lives. Others have intellectual objections to Christian doctrine. Still more feel that they are unworthy or unable to live the life of a disciple. There are also those who are currently involved in a Christian church, but who for whatever reason feel that they have missed a real connection with God.

Jesus promised us that "all who seek will find." So how do spiritual seekers take the next step into a real relationship with God? In our current series "Stages: Where Am I in Relationship to God?" we're looking at the stories of six different people in Scripture who were at different points in their spiritual journey. This Sunday, we'll look at the story of a seeker named Nicodemus. If you are seeking a real relationship with God, or if you know someone who is, I hope you'll be there.

A New Decade

What a difference a decade makes. Think with me for a moment about the year 2000. It’s amazing enough that the year 2000 is ten years in the past. I can remember distinctly sitting in an elementary school classroom thinking about the year 2000, about how OLD I would be when that date finally arrived, how we’d probably be driving hovercars and taking vacations on Jupiter by then. Now that time is already ancient history.

Beyond all that, think about how much has changed since then. In January of 2000, I didn’t even own a cell phone. Now I am virtually addicted to a device that enables me to contact (and be contacted by) anyone, anywhere, via phone, text or email; it also keeps my appointments, tracks my mileage, shopping list and exercise regimen, tells me today’s weather forecast, plays my music, gives my kids fun games to play when they’re bored, supplies me with directions to anywhere I want to go, and performs dozens of other functions. Ten years ago, if you had said, “I’ll Facebook you tonight,” I would’ve wondered if you were planning to hit me in the jaw with a volume of War and Peace. Pausing and rewinding live TV sounded like a neat idea, but not something I’d actually be able to do.

Ten years ago, Houston had no pro football team, we were proud that our baseball team played in “Enron Field,” and the thought of the Rockets drafting a 7 foot 6 Chinese player seemed almost as unlikely as our country electing a black President. Ten years ago, we thought terrorism was something that happened overseas. We had never dreamed of taking off our shoes to get on an airplane, had never heard of a “Department of Homeland Security.” Allison, Katrina, and Rita were still considered fine names for a girl, and Ike was just a former President. Iraq was a place we’d fought once, briefly, and won overwhelmingly, and Afghanistan was full of freedom fighters who’d whipped the Soviets back in the 80s. People kept talking about a looming economic collapse, but most of us assumed they were as crazy as those Y2K nuts…surely our prosperity would never end!

Can you imagine what the next ten years will bring? I know I can’t. But I know the one who can. Our God is Sovereign, no matter what happens in the Stock Market, on Capitol Hill or in my own family. As we begin a new decade, let’s remember Jesus’ words on worry: Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Instead, He said, Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:34 and 33). No matter what this decade brings, that is still the only way to truly live.