Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Baptist Student Ministry at UH

Today, WBC provided lunch for the BSM at the University of Houston. Baptist Student Ministry is very important to me. It was in that very same BSM building that I met my wife, and many other people who helped me learn what it was to live as a fully devoted follower of Christ in a diverse city like ours. So I am always excited about any opportunity to visit the building and see what's going on.

I have to tell you, BSM work has come a long way since my day. When I was a student in the late 80s and early 90s, weekly free lunches were a small affair. 50 students or so would eat the lasagna or taco salad provided by a local church and listen semi-patiently to the church's pastor. The crowd would mostly be made up of kids for whom BSM was a place to hangout between classes, playing cards or ping pong... a sort of "youth group away from home." There would be a newcomer or two sprinkled in from time to time, as we invited our lost friends. We'd talk quite a bit about mission work or evangelism, but rarely see any conversions.

Free Tuesday lunch at UH is now a three hour, come-and-go event that attracts between 200 and 300 people. There is no speaker. Instead, the BSM director (BJ Ramon), his two campus missionaries, and other student leaders sit at the tables building relationships with students, many of which are leading in some wonderful directions. BJ told me that this semester, they've seen six students accept Christ. One was a girl he met at student orientation before the semester began. At that time, she said, "I'm an atheist. You'll never see me again." A few weeks ago, she showed up at their Tuesday night worship service, saying, "I'm still an atheist, but I thought I'd check this out." A couple of days later, BJ noticed that she had signed up for their summer mission trip. He asked her if she was sure she wanted to go, since they plan to spend most of their time telling people about Jesus. She said, "That's cool. I can do that." Apparently, she had become a believer after attending that first worship service.

Another young man came into the BSM one day asking BJ what sorts of Bible studies they offered. BJ explained what they had, then asked what he was looking for. The young man said, "Well, in my dorm room the other night, I gave my life to God. Now I need to know what that means." He also asked if it would be okay if he brought some friends who need to give their lives to God as well. BJ said it was remarkable...this young man had experienced conversion, and was already doing discipleship and evangelism, without even knowing those terms! Since that time, they've seen that young man grow by leaps and bounds.

They have some great plans for the future. One of their campus missionaries and her husband want to move some on-campus apartments and establish Bible studies in all of the frat houses. They are hoping God will provide the funding. Of course, there have also been discouraging events. Recently, a student leader at the BSM confessed to BJ that he is involved in a homosexual relationship. This young man knows what the Bible says about that, and BJ gently explained that he is still welcome at any event, but he cannot be a leader in the BSM if he's engaged in behavior that is unbiblical. Recently, the young man told BJ that he was filing a discrimination complaint with the University. Please pray for this young man, and for this entire situation. Texas Baptists own the building, so the ministry will continue no matter what, but an unfavorable ruling could affect the BSM's ability to schedule events on campus.

God is doing great things. It's important--and refreshing--for us to be able to hear some of the great things He's up to in other parts of our city.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What It's All About

I don't often do this, but I felt led this week to change my sermon plan. I had planned to do one more message in the Joseph series, but as I began preparing, I just felt like we'd said all there was to say for now...another sermon would have been redundant, repetitive, more of the same, etc (did you catch that?). So I decided instead to share something that God taught me last week at the conference I attended (see the previous post). The message will be entitled, "What It's All About," based on Ephesians 3:1-7. Here's a little preview:

Last year, an article in The Futurist magazine talked about a new movement called Transhumanism. Transhumanism doesn’t have anything to do with God…in fact, many of its adherents are atheists, but one says, “This is our religion.” Transhumanism is essentially the belief that technology will eventually cure all of the bodies’ ills. Artificial limbs will someday allow the human body to do things it’s not capable of presently. Nanotechnology will allow microscopic robots to be injected into the bloodstream, fighting off diseases and healing damaged tissue. Brains will be engineered medically to perform faster and more effectively. Most transhumanists want to be cryogenically frozen when they get old or terminally ill, assuming that some future doctor will be able to thaw them and change their medical diagnosis. One believer, an inventor named Ray Kurzwell, predicts that by the year 2030, every common disease in the world will have been cured. Another adherent, Ralph Merkle, says that "once we get the technology in place, dying goes away. It just doesn't happen."

Now you and I can scoff if we want, but let’s just say they’re right. What if, 20 years from now, humanity has abolished death, at least by natural causes. Does that really solve anything? Is it really the point of life to live as long and as pain-free as possible? Only if Jesus was wrong. Jesus said there is another world coming after this one. He said the truly wise person doesn’t store up treasure down here, but uses His time, talent and resources storing up treasure for the world to come. Eventually, either through death or the coming of Judgment Day, life on this Earth is going to end for every one of us. The question then will be, “Did I use my time wisely. Did I live life the way it was meant to be lived?” As the Irish missionary Amy Carmichael once said, “We have all of eternity to celebrate our victories, but only a few hours before sunset to win them.”

So what is life all about? Every once in a while, we need to be reminded of this. It’s not about who lives longest, who looks the prettiest, or who makes the most money. The apostle Paul may have lived the most outstanding life of any person outside of Jesus Christ, in terms of the number of lives he personally changed for the better and in his lasting impact on this world. In these words, speaking to his beloved friends from behind bars, he reminds them—and us—what life is really all about. As we talk about the four things he emphasizes in these verses, my challenge to you is that each of us would write down a few things we will change because of this encounter. New Year’s is usually the time when people make resolutions, but next Sunday is the beginning of Advent, the start of the Christian year. We remember that Jesus came to us to save us, and that He’s coming again someday. I can’t think of a better time to start a few new habits. So I will consider this message a success if everyone in our church this Sunday walks away with at least one thing—and preferably three or four, that they are going to do differently in the days ahead.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Right Now Conference

Last week, I attended The Right Conference in Irving. I heard some amazing preachers, got some new ideas, and just plain got refreshed. Here are some quotes I wrote down:

"Spiritual leadership is walking with Jesus and taking others along with you. Pastors burn out because they start out walking with Jesus and end up working for Jesus."

--Pete Briscoe, Pastor of Bent Tree Fellowship in Carrolton

"Whenever we are envious of another person’s ministry, we downplay the effects of the Holy Spirit in their success. We say things like, “They’re only growing because they water down the Gospel.” That implies that if they really preached the Gospel, they wouldn’t grow! Are we that different from the Pharisees, when they said Jesus cast out demons because He was a demon Himself?"

"Don’t expect God to come into the occasional if you reject Him in the continuous."

--JR Vassar, Pastor of Apostles Church in New York City

"God’s solution to a hurting world is the compassion of His people. Compassion is our finest apologetic."

--Max Lucado, speaker and author

"Matthew 16:19 says Jesus gave us the keys to the Kingdom. You can't use the world's keys to do the church's work, anymore than you can use a key from a Marriot to get into a room in the Hilton. But if we use Kingdom Keys, we cannot be stopped."

--Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship.

I especially enjoyed a breakout session with Matt Carter, pastor of Austin Stone Community Church. I had heard of the church, since some of our former members who now live in Austin attend there. Just for background, the church was started in 2002. Well-known Christian artist Chris Tomlin was the worship leader for a while, but has since moved on. Their weekly average attendance is now around 6000, with about half of those being college students. His breakout session was about reaching people in their 20s and 30s. The first thing he said is that there is no formula. But there are certain principles they have discovered for reaching this age group:

1. Lift high the name of Jesus. Before every service, they pray, “I want you to be exalted, Lord.” Make Jesus the star of everything you do.

2. Preach expositionally—This generation wants the Word, they want to be challenged. In a survey, members said the number one reason they stay at the church is the preaching, teaching and doctrine.

3. Transparency is huge for this generation—be honest about your own struggles.

4. Teach the Gospel, not “ten tips for a happier life.”

5. Help them get on mission. This generation hates injustice and wants to do something about it. Second biggest reason people stay at this church is that they find they can make a difference in the world through the church.

6. Worship must be God-centered. Make sure your worship leaders know how to lead worship, not just be good musicians.

7. Don’t be political. Teach the Word and let that stuff take care of itself.

8. Invest in the people God brings you. Don't just tell them about the programs your church has; Pour yourself into them, mentor them, help them find their place. People are more important than programs.

9. Redefine success for your small groups. Make them into missional communities.

This term "missional communities" is a new one for me, but apparently it is an emerging trend in church work (try googling "missional communities" and you'll see what I mean). Apparently, it's a group of people who rally around ministry and witness to a particular demographic group or pocket of a city. I am going to have to do more research on this idea, because it might be a "next step" in our church becoming more externally focused.