February 19, 2007

Amazing Grace - The Movie

2007 marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade between Great Britain and many African nations. Those of us who have never encountered real slavery cannot imagine the horrors of whole families be violently captured, drug from their homes, beaten into submission, thrown on board ships, and trafficked across the western world as slaves. It was a horrible thing—a plague over which many Christians cringed, but against which few had the courage to speak out. But one did—William Wilberforce!

William Wilberforce was a Bible-believing, Christ-proclaiming, church-loving Christian. It is said that he could recite the whole 119th Psalm by heart on his daily walk home from his office in British Parliament (look up Psalm 119 if you think that is a ho-hum accomplishment!). William Wilberforce was also a dynamic force for change in 18th and 19th century British government.

As a young man, and fairly new member of Parliament, he boldly brought forward a bill proposing the abolition of the slave trade. He was voted down…twenty consecutive years! He was dragged through the mud by those who opposed him. His principles were questioned and his name slandered. But with faith in Jesus Christ; with the truth of the Bible in his hands; and with the encouragement of such notable Christian leaders as John Newton and John Wesley…Wilberforce pressed on until finally, in his old age, he finally won the day and Great Britain forever banned the practice of trading slaves! And, largely because of Britain’s example, so (eventually) did the other European slave nations, as well as the United States.

Wilberforce is, perhaps, one of the two or three greatest truly Christian politicians the English-speaking world has known. And on this two-hundredth anniversary of his greatest political triumph, you might be interested in learning more about this amazing man.

I would encourage you to take the time to read or order John Piper’s 80-page biography of Wilberforce. I would also encourage you to go see the film Amazing Grace which appears in theatres this weekend. It is reportedly an accurate and well-made portrayal of Wilberforce’s life and political career.

What do I think you may learn from the 2-3 hours it would take to watch or read about Wilberforce? Several things…

1. A healthy appreciation for the importance of Christian history. There are many other inspiring characters out there whom we all need to discover…and this could start forming in us good habits.

2. A reminder of the Christian’s responsibility for and joy in working for social justice—for the oppressed, the unborn, the enslaved, etc.

3. A portrait of how Christians may be helpfully involved in politics.

4. More proof that the world’s portrayal of Christians as closed-minded bigots is a bald-faced lie—or at least it ought to be!

5. A reminder that Jesus Christ loves and died for people from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation—and an urgency to get busy at reaching them.

So, take an afternoon or evening (that’s all it would take) and immerse yourself in Wilberforce…and see if you don’t find him pointing you to Jesus and his world-wide cause!

February 12, 2007

Free Steak Dinner

Dr. Gray Allison, who taught me Personal Evangelism in seminary, used to say: ‘If any of you ever catches me on the street without my pocket testament I’ll buy you a steak dinner. But if you ask me about my testament and do not have yours, you owe me a steak dinner.’ I think a few students tried to call his bluff a time or two when they saw him out around town. But as far as I know, Dr. Allison has never had to buy anyone a steak dinner yet!

Why such a ‘bet’ between pastors? Well, because it is so important that we (all Christians) always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks [us] to give an account for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3.15). And, as Dr. Allison would say, we ought not just be ready when someone asks us…but to be proactive in sharing the gospel with people who do not ask. He taught us to pray for…and look for…opportunities to share the good news.

But why was it important to Dr. Allison to have a Bible (or at least New Testament) with him? He might quote another passage from 1 Peter to illustrate. Listen to 1 Peter 1.23: “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” Do you want people to see people born again? Then you must realize that the only seed you can sow that can even blossom into a new believer is the “word of God”! It is the very word of God (the Bible) which has the power to awaken people!

Now can God use your non-verbal testimony for Jesus? Absolutely! Can God use your explanation of the words of the Bible? Certainly. Can God use verbal or pictorial illustrations you may give to help people understand the gospel? Yes. All these may help people understand, get their attention, clarify the truth, drive the point home, etc. But only one seed can cause them to finally be born again—“the living and enduring word of God.” If you talk all around the gospel without ever actually referring to the direct words of Scripture…you haven’t shared the gospel.

What does this mean? It means that giving someone a Bible can be a tremendous gift. It also means that, when you share the gospel, you should always quote Scripture—letting God speak for Himself, even as you speak for Him. And that means that, in order to share the gospel effectively, you had better have lots of Scripture stored up in your mind; or always have a Testament close at hand; or both!

This is why Dr. Allison made the bet. He wanted his students to always be “ready to make a defense.” He wanted his students to see people genuinely born again. And he knew that, if we do not give people the actual words of God, we will leave them spiritually stillborn.

So…do you feel confident that you have Scripture enough stored up in your mind and heart that you could give a defense of the gospel to anyone who asked you? If not…maybe you and I ought to start carrying a Bible close at hand. For “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10.17).

February 6, 2007

Ethiopia or Bust

This April 13-27, a pastor friend (Scott Duley of LaGrange, KY) and I will be traveling to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to teach in a Pastor’s Training Institute. Anthony Mathenia one of the missionaries Pleasant Ridge supports, was asked this January to take full responsibility for training 72 Ethiopian men who have signed up to go through Bible-training, then move into the unreached Ethiopian countryside to plant churches! Think of it: 72 men, sent out two-by-two to preach the gospel and start new churches in totally unreached regions of the country…and Anthony gets to train them from the ground up! More than that, Scott and I get to help. In fact, our two weeks of teaching will inaugurate the Training Institute!

Let me give you the details. For two weeks, Monday-Friday, these men will attend classes with Scott and myself all day long. He will be teaching half the day on the doctrine of God; I will teach the other half-day through the Sermon on the Mount. Then, in months to come, these men will come back to the city several more times for more intensive training. In a couple of years, we hope to have 72 (and maybe more) men who are “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3.17). What a privilege to have a tiny part in that! Would you pray with me for this trip?

·Pray for the logistics that have to come together to make a trip like this possible…travel details, shots, funding, etc.

·Pray for these 72 pastors…that God would prepare their minds and hearts in advance for the work He is calling them to do.

·Pray that Scott and I would be thoroughly prepared for our classroom time. I need to spend about half-a-day each week between now and then, working on the teaching material. So pray we’ll both be diligent!

·Pray, especially, for Anthony and Amber…that God would give them grace and endurance as they invest in these men long-term.
Please do pray...