Did You Know...?

William Wilberforce is well-known for bringing an end to the British slave trade.  In his tireless work to abolish this terrible practice, Wilberforce made it a priority to uncover and expose the atrocities of slavery, expecting that when people realized what was happening, they would not stand for it.

 In a speech before Parliament on May 12, 1789, William Wilberforce laid out his argument against the trade, ending his plea with these words: 

"Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know."

 Knowledge changes the game

We live in a time in history with unprecedented, instant access to real-time information from all over the globe. We also live in a country that is comfortable and peaceful enough that we can ignore, if we choose, the harsh realities of the world. We can decide what we see and don't see.

Yesterday my oldest son asked me, "Papa, are we rich?" I first explained to him the concept of relativity (which I'm sure was lost on his 6-yr-old mind) and then answered, "Yes son, we are. We have freedom, opportunity, a home to live in, and enough food to eat. We never wonder if we will get a meal on any given day. We are rich." He thought about this and responded, "We should do something to make sure that other people have enough food.

YES. Praise God. He is starting to get it. Oh that we would see things as a child does.

Today I want us to commit to two things: to know and to do. We can choose to know what is happening around the world, and once we know, we can choose to do something about it...or not.

Did you know, for example, that an official famine has been declared in South Sudan*, with 100,000 people at risk of dying of starvation, and at least 5 million in need of assistance? (and did you know that Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria are in about the same spot?) 

Now you know. And while we cannot do something about everything, we can make a choice to know, and then ask God what He would have us to do.

*If your heart is moved to do something specifically for those suffering in South Sudan, check out the work of BGR*

Posted on March 28, 2017 .

Love the Refugee (donation collection)

"You also must love the foreigner, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt."

While I have addressed this already (see blog titled, "For You Were Refugees" from June 21) I felt that this topic warrants a brief revisit.  

On the one hand, we now find ourselves in a cultural and political climate that is hostile to the foreigner, and we must step up and stand out as followers of Christ who love refugees, regardless of what laws, bans, or regulations are in place.

At the same time, I realize that my earlier post hit heavily on the "Why" without much practical help with the "How."  Or, to put it another way, I explained that "you were foreigners in the land" without giving many tangible ways to "love the foreigner.

While there are many directions I could go (like, telling you to GO TO the refugee since many of them cannot come to us.  I mean, we are Americans - we can travel easily to almost anywhere.  Shouldn't we take advantage of that and bring the love of Chris TO those who are hurting, helpless and hopeless, living in refugee camps across the globe? Maybe I'll save that idea for another blog post) I want to highlight a specific opportunity we have RIGHT NOW, this month, to love the refugee.

One of our members is helping us partner with World Relief, an organization based in Clarkston, GA. Knowing that political violence, ethnic disputes and economic disparities displace millions of people a year, World Relief stands for the displaced by specializing in Immigrant Services & Refugee Resettlement in Atlanta. Every year, World Relief Atlanta's network of volunteers/partner churches resettle approximately 1% of all refugees entering the United States, providing language skills, job training and spiritual support to our new community members.

They are in need of donations, and we are going to send whatever we can collect - one small way for us to stand up and say, "We love the refugee!"

So, what do they need?  Glad you asked:

  • school uniforms
    • khaki/navy pants, shorts, skirts, jumpers; white knit 'polo' shirts; sizes 5T - teen sizes)
  • school supplies
  • backpacks
  • dinnerware
  • blankets
  • household products
    • dish soap
    • toilet paper
    • cleaners
  • hygiene products
    • soap
    • toothbrushes
    • toothpaste
    • shampoo

Where do I bring it?  Also glad you asked:

Starting THIS SUNDAY (3/5/17) and going through 3/26/17, you can leave any donations outside the office of our Mission Director (in-between 303 and 305 in Sanctuary Building).  If you have any questions or need to arrange a larger donation drop-off, please email chris@watkinsville.org

Posted on February 28, 2017 .

Meet the Blanks

Two Sundays ago, our Director of Missions presented an overview of the state of our world.  We learned some really hard realities about places that the gospel has still yet to penetrate, about billions of people living in these areas with zero access to that life-giving gospel, and about the extreme lack of Christian workers willing to go to those places and bring that gospel to those people.

We also heard from a number of our Watkinsville partners who are living around the world on mission, including the ________s, a family of 5 that is working to penetrate the darkness of East Asia with the light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  About 10 years ago, ________ attended and served at Watkinsville as a college student; she married ______ and they moved together to East Asia, during which time they had their now 6-yr-old son ______, their 4-yr-old son _______ and just recently delivered a little baby girl, now 2-month-old _______.

Many of you already know the _______s, but for those who met them for the first time in that video Sunday, I wanted to introduce this family to you - they are some of our dearest friends, greatest encouragers and most passionate people I know, living on mission and sharing the gospel with anyone who will listen in one of the least-reached parts of the world.

OK, you're tired of it already.  I know.  What's with all the blanks?  Well, the thing is, the ______s live in a place that is pretty hostile to the gospel.  The leaders of their country do not want people talking about Jesus, and they work pretty hard to keep people out who might do that.  So the ______s have to be pretty careful. And so do we.  It seems funny, but this is not a joke - many fellow workers have been kicked out of this country in recent days, and this family has been investigated by the government once already.  The battle still rages, the gospel still offends, and we are still to be wise as serpents while innocent as doves.

So what does life look like for this family as they try to live under the radar in a semi-closed country?  Well, _______ teaches at a local university, which gives him access to thousands of students.  He cannot legally share the gospel with them as a teacher, but that won't stop him from leveraging his position to encourage discussion, curiosity, questions and one-on-one conversations.  ________ home-schools the boys, but don't think that means she is "on the sideline."  If you know her at all, you know that everyone in her path has probably heard about Jesus multiple times, from her meat-man to the lady at the salon and everyone in between.  

The boys go to a local school for part of the day (mainly to help them learn language) and are homeschooled otherwise.  The ______s will have neighbors over for meals, will host Christmas parties and share the story of Jesus, and will use whatever they can in their daily lives to introduce whoever they can to the saving gospel of Christ.

So, yeah, you figured it out.  The magic of being a missionary, the secret to success, the key that unlocks the door to unreached people and separates overseas workers from the rest of us "normal" Christians.  Geographic location.

Think about it - what did I describe to you?  A normal family of disciples, living life, buying food, going to school, working a job, spending time with lost friends and introducing them to Jesus whenever their is a chance.  The ______s are simply living as disciples of Jesus, and they happen to live in a place considered unreached with the gospel, among a people that have no access to that gospel - people who, unless they hear it from the _______s, will likely live the rest of their lives and die without ever knowing that there is a personal, creator God who loves them and has made a way to be reconciled to them.

If you are a disciple of Christ, it means that your purpose in life is to know Him and make Him known in the places that you live, work and play.  But in light of the realities of the world, the lack of access to the gospel and the disparity of workers willing to go, have you asked God WHERE He wants you to live, work and play?  Have you laid everything on the table before Him, willing to go anywhere and do anything for the sake of the spread of his fame and the glory of His great Name to the ends of the Earth?

There is nothing different, special, or 'super-Christian' about the ______s.  They are simply a family that asked God that question, and obeyed when He said "go."  Have you asked?  Are you listening? 

If you would like to know the ______s even better and know how to pray for them, email chris@watkinsville.org and he can set you up on their monthly updates.  For now, here are a few things they asked us to pray for:

  • Ask that God would be glorified during this Christmas season and for His glory to be made known to many in this city!  Pray that Jesus is treasured in our hearts and increasingly in our children's hearts!
  • Good health for our family as we have been battling sickness recently. 
  • That God would bring relationships to us (newborn life and homeschool each afternoon keep me -- ________ -- at home mostly...thus making it a challenge to be out & about meeting new people!). 
  • Ask that God would show us who & how we can invest deeply in here.  With our situation, it's probably best for us to go deep with a few.
Posted on December 13, 2016 .

Global Update Scripture Medley

We have had a number of requests to post the Scripture references that were quoted during the service on Sunday.  So, here you go!  Our prayer and hope is that this will continue to encourage you, point your hearts and minds to God and His mission, and also motivate you to 'store up His Word in your hearts' (Psalm 119:11).


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:1-4)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5)

[and] God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:27-28)

[But] sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— (Romans 5:12)

[yes], all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19)

[and] the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Romans 1:18-23)

[but our God] sits above the circle of the Earth, and its inhabitants are like [creeping things].  He stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them like a tent to dwell in.  He brings princes to nothing and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.  Scarcely are they scattered, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth when He blows on them and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.  To whom then will you compare me that I should be like Him, says the Holy One?  Lift up your eyes on high and see, who created these?  He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name. By the greatness of His might and because He is strong in power, not one of them is missing...Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the Earth.  He does not faint or grow weary. His understanding is unsearchable (Isaiah 40:21-28)

[Oh] declare His glory among all the nations; His marvelous works among all peoples.  for great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, He is to be feared above all gods.  All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens (Psalm 96:3-5)

[and] the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech nor are their words whose voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4)

[and this] God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for... (Acts 17:24-27)

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14)

[yes] God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)

[and that Son,] He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20)

And there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2)

[yes] For our sake He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)

And [that] gospel of the kingdom, [it] will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14)

[But] it is not for you to know times or seasons that my father has fixed by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:7-8)

[for] all authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20)

[so] I am not ashamed of [this] gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16)

[yes] everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13)

But the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few (Matthew 9:37)

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:14-15)

Thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, "those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand" (Romans 15:20-21)

[and one day] every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11)

And [then] I looked and behold...a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne...and around the throne...are four living creatures, each of them with six wings, full of eyes all around and within, and...they sang a new song, saying "worthy are you to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation...and day and night they never cease to say "Holy holy holy is the Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come. (Revelation 4:1a, 4:2b, 4:6a, 5:9, 4:8

Posted on December 5, 2016 .

Orphan Sunday

This Sunday, November 13th 2016, we will join with thousands of churches across America and around the globe to stand for the orphan.  We are a people called to defend the fatherless...to care for the child that has no family...to visit orphans in their affliction.

That word, "visit" - it means more than just "going to see." To visit the orphan is to enter their world, their suffering, with a desire and effort to bring help, hope and healing. It is not to watch with sadness from afar, but to enter the sadness ourselves and do something about it.  

But where do we start?  How can we even begin to "visit" the 153+ million orphans around our globe?  What can we do against numbers and realities like these:

Numbers and statistics can be overwhelming. And I get it - days like "Orphan Sunday" can feel like a big depressing reminder that "I'm not doing enough" and "there's just so much pain in the world." Why even talk about it?  Why have a day where we bring up an insurmountable problem and suggest an impossible task?

Because we must know where the darkness is if we want our light to be effective.  The moment we stop hearing, knowing and caring about the hard things and the sad things is the moment we give in to the desires of our flesh and the pull of our culture to look out for ourselves, take care of ourselves, and ignore the poor and marginalized like everyone else does.  We must never stop allowing ourselves to be broken over this world...

...Because God has not asked us to fix the world - that's His job.  He has asked us to be obedient in our lives as a reflection of Him, the Father to the fatherless, to care for the orphan (singular) - to care about individuals.  People.  Children with individual names, faces, stories, hopes and dreams. And if we all do that, if we all care for ONE, we can literally change the world.

That all sounds great, but what does that look like right now, today?  

  1. Come on Orphan Sunday with open ears and an open heart, asking God how He might be calling you to visit orphans in their affliction.
  2. Stop by one of the tables we will have set up outside to ask questions, learn more, or even take a next step.
  3. Bring a donation
    1. $5-$10 gift card (to Wal-Mart or Ulta) for hygiene products to be donated to foster care families
    2. Clothes (Newborn - Highschooler and everything in between)
    3. Diapers
  4. Consider joining a Care Team for foster families, providing prayer, meals and support to those caring for orphans in our community (learn more Sunday)
  5. Consider adoption (come by the table to learn more)
  6. Consider fostering (come by the table to learn more)
  7. Give generously
    1. To our Lifesong Adoption Fund, which helps families in our church with adoption costs (click here to give)
    2. To organizations like (un)adopted who are working with children that will likely never have a family, but can still have life skills, a hope and a future (see their table Sunday and check them out here)
  8. Pray like crazy
    1. For orphans to find families
    2. For adoptive families to have strength, provision and support
    3. For foster families to care well for children not their own
    4. For foster children to be reunited with their parents in healthy situations
    5. For children aging out of the foster system here (or orphanages abroad) to learn life skills and develop networks that will keep them off the streets and thriving as adults

 

Posted on November 8, 2016 .

Intolerable

Sunday night we had the privilege of hearing from the heart of our IMB president, David Platt. Of the many challenging statements he made that night, one question continues to burn in my mind:

When will the concept of unreached peoples become intolerable to the church?

With 2.8 billion people around the globe considered "unreached" with the good news of the love of God made manifest in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf - and a mere fraction of our resources (people and money) being allocated to get the gospel to them - we must conclude that the average Christian either

  1. Does not understand the reality of the unreached or
  2. Does not care

I can do little to address #2, and would like to believe that the general apathy and inaction of the church stems primarily from #1.  Let's deal with that now (and I will be pulling from a lot of what David said Sunday night to do so).

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE UNREACHED?

Practically, this means that you lack access to the Gospel.  It is very likely you have never heard of Jesus Christ, or at best you have a general, pop-culture idea of Him as an historical figure, a teacher of great truths (like Confucius or something).  It is also very likely that you have never met a Christian, been in a church, seen or read a Bible. Unless something changes you will be born, live your life and die without ever being told once about the love and mercy of God found in the person of Jesus Christ.

This is not the same as being "lost."

You have lost neighbors, co-workers and family members - but they have access to the gospel, because they are YOUR neighbors, co-workers and family.  You are their access.  To be lost in Athens, GA or even Gulu, Uganda is different than being lost in North Korea or Saudi Arabia. Georgia and Uganda have churches, bibles and a large majority of Christians.  In North Korea you can be executed for owning a Bible.  In Saudi Arabia it is illegal to build a Christian church.  

When we talk about the 2.8 billion unreached around the world, we are not talking about people who have simply rejected Christ - we are talking about people who will most likely die without ever having a chance to accept or reject Him.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE WHO DIE WITHOUT ACCEPTING CHRIST?

The Bible is crystal clear on this. It is not an enjoyable topic to discuss - I write it with tears - but I think it is perhaps one of the most misunderstood truths in all of Scripture, and one of the most paramount to our living on mission with God.

The Book of Romans was written as an explanation for why Paul wanted to take the gospel to Spain - a sort of missionary support letter.  In Romans, Paul explains the reality of the problem that is faced by all mankind - reached or unreached, Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free:

  1. We all have knowledge of God (Romans 1:18)
    • everyone, everywhere, in every language, culture and geographic location is aware in the depth of their soul of the existence of God
  2. We all have rejected God (Romans 1:21)
    • rebellion and rejection looks different in different places; idols look different in different cultures and contexts. But whether we choose golden statues, Buddha or Allah, money, football, or ourselves - we have all rejected God
  3. We all stand condemned before God (Romans 1:18 - the end of chapter 3)
    • we are all condemned because of our sin, not because of rejecting Christ.  Therefore those who never hear the gospel suffer the same fate as those who hear and reject  
  4. To believe and be saved, we must hear the gospel and respond to it (Romans 10:14
    • the gospel is only good news if it gets there in time

So you see, 2.8 billion people are facing a Christ-less eternity in a place called Hell, and their only hope is the love of God found in a Savior they know nothing about. But WE KNOW, and we can go tell them - we have been shown such great mercy in where we were born and what we were taught and how God granted the faith to believe. Could it be that we were not just shown mercy for our own sake, but that we might proclaim the mercies of God among the nations?  Could it be that we were, in fact, blessed with the gospel so as to be a blessing to all nations

WHAT WILL IT TAKE?

So I pose the question again: What will it take for the concept of unreached peoples to become intolerable to the church?  

We know what it means to be unreached; we know what happens to all people who do not accept Christ; we have the greatest news of all time for all people - news of a King who loves us and has conquered sin and death on our behalf. How could we do anything less than laying everything on the table before our Lord and King, offering to Him our lives, our family, our future, our plans, our retirement, our hobbies, our city, our friends, our comforts, security, hopes and dreams - all for the sake of the spread of the news of the King who has come and is coming again, among unreached people in unreached places until there is no place left where His name has not been proclaimed.

He may ask us to go, or stay, or a little of both. But regardless of the details, He has asked all of us to join Him in His mission to spread His glory among the nations - why settle for a life devoted to anything else?

As for our family, we currently feel called to live this out here in Athens and Watkinsville, GA.  That may change one day, only God knows - but I want to say publicly what we've said in prayer privately:

our "yes" is on the table and we are willing to go - anywhere, anything, anytime.  

Will you commit to the same?  Will you put your "yes" on the table before God and leave the details to Him?  Are you willing to go wherever He sends you and do whatever it takes to get the gospel to the places that it has not gone and no one else is taking it?

Posted on October 4, 2016 .

The Insanity of God - another showing!

Did you hear about the movie last week and just couldn't make it?  Don't worry, you have another chance on Tuesday, September 13th!  And listen, church: when I told you to see it, I was just guessing it would be worth your time, because I'd read the book and heard good things about the film.  Now that I've seen it myself...I cannot implore you enough to make this happen - go see the movie.  It will change you.

When I first read The Insanity of God, I could not put the thing down.  It rocked me, in a good way, and opened my eyes to some things I needed to see.

I have since had the chance to meet with and learn from the author on multiple occasions, and those experiences only reinforced what I already thought - everyone should hear their story.

You see, their story is also the story of persecuted believers around the globe; and as Christians living in the freedom of the West, we need to know, see and understand.  We need to be broken so that we will live and pray differently.

The Insanity of God is the true story of missionaries Nik and Ruth Ripken. After the death of their son, this ordinary couple journeys into the depths of the persecuted church, asking the question- "IS JESUS WORTH IT?" Through their experiences they find themselves wondering, "How does faith survive, let alone flourish, in the places of the world that are over­ come with the darkness of sin, despair, and hopelessness?"

Their story was a book, which you should still read, but now it's a film as well!  Released in association with the International Mission Board (IMB), this was the first theatrical release from LifeWay Films. It sold out last week in many cities (including Athens) so they have decided to host another one-night event, same time, same place.

So, if you missed it last week, here's another chance to hear the Ripkens story of being taught by believers in persecution. "How to follow Jesus, how to love Jesus, and how to walk with Him day by day even when it doesn't make sense."

DETAILS

#insanityofgod

Tuesday, September 13th, 7:00 PM

at the new Ovation Theater on Lexington Road in Athens.  

Buy tickets HERE

Posted on August 22, 2016 .

(un)adopted

Statistics can be overwhelming.

6808 Unreached People Groups (meaning 4.2 billion people with little or no access to the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ).

3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes, 99% of those are in the developing world.

153 million orphaned children around the globe, not even including institutionalized children, children on the streets, or children who are at risk, neglected or abused.

But statistics can also lead to action:

That was my family's story: motivated by God's adoption of us into His family, broken by the realities around the world and seeing an opportunity to do something about it, we began the adoption process in December of 2012 and brought Lizzie into our family in July of 2014.  But something else happened in that process: we learned a lot more about the global orphan crisis, and the more you learn, the more you realize the depth and complexity of the darkness.

We learned that of the 153,000,000+ orphaned children around the world, only 0.5% will have the chance for international adoption. Whether because of the country they live in, their age, special need or other circumstance, most of these kids will grow up as orphans, "age out" of the system, and then hit the streets without a family, support network, or skill set for life.

As you might imagine, a heartbreaking majority of those who "age out" like this end up in horrible situations, some taken advantage of by evil men, most just doing what they can to survive - the end result is most often prostitution, drugs, gangs, homelessness, prison and early death.

As I said before, statistics can be overwhelming, and this is no exception.  BUT, as I said, they can also lead to ACTION, which is why I wanted to tell you about one of my favorite ministries: (un)adopted.

(un)adopted exists to reach orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) with the hope of the gospel and equip them with the life skills needed to bring about community transformation. They seek to holistically care for these children in their physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs. Through their efforts, lives are transformed, stories are redeemed, and the Gospel is the foundation of it all.

Essentially, (un)adopted exists for the 99.5%.  They exist to give a fighting chance to the kids whose lives are simply one statistic followed by another.  They exist to change statistics, and they do it by helping these kids develop life and social skills to prepare them for adulthood in the real world.  And we have a chance to help.

This Saturday, I want to invite you to join us at Oconee Veterans Park for a casual group run and a quick information session about this amazing ministry.  By signing up, you get a cool t-shirt and you support this great work.  By coming, you get to run with your friends and learn more about (un)adopted.  Sounds like a win-win.  We can't help everyone, but we can #runforone. Here's the details:

We will be hosting a "Run Where You Are" right here in Watkinsville! This is a family friendly, casual, group run at Oconee Veterans Park. Bring the stroller, the dog, your child's favorite tricycle. We can all get a little exercise while raising awareness about vulnerable children around the globe. Don't like to run and still want to learn more about (un)adopted? Great! Come eat a popsicle and hear more about the awesome work this organization does! 

See you at Oconee Veterans Park at 6:30pm on August 20th! Click here and register.  The cost is $25, and each runner will be mailed an official Run for One t-shirt.

Posted on August 16, 2016 .

Defining Fruit

Here it comes. Do you feel it? 

Roads are busier; lines are longer; more and more people seem to have no idea where they are going. Like nervous newlyweds preparing their apartment for a visit from the in-laws on Thanksgiving is our town in the first weeks of August. The students are here, Fall is here, and the vague, intangible, undefinable pressure is on.

If you've been around Watkinsville for a full calendar year, you know what this means for us. We may ebb and flow with the tide of the UGA schedule, but whether the Dawgs are home or away, our church property is blessed with an abundance of collegiate passion. Last year that meant 700+ students worshipping with us on the second Sunday in August.  

"WOW!" you might say.  "Maybe this year we'll have 800 or even 1000!"  

Maybe so. And maybe not. But as we start another Fall Semester I feel we need to say some things out loud, in case you miss them in the insanity to come.

1) NUMBERS ARE IMPORTANT, BUT NEVER PRIMARY

Do we want more and more people to be in a room where Jesus is worshipped and the Gospel is preached?  Yes and amen.  That's why numbers are important.

Does it matter if we gather 800+ students for one hour on Sunday morning but never see those that are gathered growing in their walk, multiplying their lives and making new disciples?  No, not really. That's why numbers are never primary.

It's not that hard to gather Christians in a room.  It's much harder to get Christians to scatter from the room and tell their lost friends, neighbors and classmates about Jesus (It took heavy persecution to see that happen in the first century church).  It's much harder to dig into discipleship, to 'present everyone mature in Christ' (which Paul says he struggles at with all his energy).  

This is why we make such a big deal about "wholehearted followers of Christ" at Watkinsville (see our mission statement).  If we are excited about lots of people gathering on our property, it is only because of the potential for that many people to be following King Jesus wholeheartedly. 

2) CROWDS ARE A MEANS, NOT THE END

In John 6 we see Jesus seemingly wreck a very successful public ministry. Read it yourself, but essentially our Lord is at the height of popularity, known far and wide as the best party guest you can ask for, a healer of the sick, giver of life and provider of mass free lunches.

This most recent miracle has him standing before a crowd of well over 5000, many of whom wanted to crown Him as king then and there.  This seems to our modern minds like a good time to whip out a clear Gospel presentation and make an invitation.  But Jesus pretty much does the opposite - He gives a hard teaching (about eating his flesh and drinking his blood) and then sits by and watches the vast majority of His followers desert him and move on. But not the twelve

The Gospel is offensive, by design. If our end goal is to draw as many people as possible, we will eventually have to cater to the whims of the crowd, avoiding anything offensive to them - declawing the Lion of Judah so that no one gets hurt. But if our end goal is discipleship, we will hold tenaciously to the truths that Christ taught in this story (He is God, there is no other, and only those that follow Him as Lord will live forever). Some people may leave and our numbers may suffer - but those that stay will be a force to be reckoned with

No matter what happens in our country or our town, we are committed to preaching the whole counsel of God, the full Gospel of Jesus Christ of which we are unashamed.  If lots of people want to come to our church to hear that, praise God; but we won't change the message just to draw the masses.

3) GROWTH WITHOUT FRUIT IS DANGEROUSLY DECEPTIVE

In Matthew 21 we find Jesus on a stroll and looking for a snack.  He sees a fig tree in the distance, growing and full of leaves, and walks up to get a fig.  On closer examination, it turned out that the tree had no figs, so he cursed it and left (and later it withered up and died).

The tree was growing, but producing no fruit.

As we head into the Fall and see students pouring in, our numbers going up, and new families moving to Watkinsville and joining our church, I am truly excited about the opportunities before us. But I want us to be cautious how we measure and define fruit.  

If our church is growing because more Christians are coming, but no one is moving from death to life, we aren't producing fruit. If our church is growing but the Kingdom of God is not, then we aren't producing fruit. If our church is growing, but on closer examination our people are not multiplying their lives and living on mission and making disciples where they live, work and play, it's quite possible that we will wither up and die.

We need your help, church. We need to work together to not let the busyness of the Fall distract us from our goal or make us think the job is done.  Let us remember, as the Fall comes and the students come and everything gets crazy, why we are actually here; let us work together to keep our focus and priority on what really matters, and to use the blessing of a growing church to reach a lost and dying world; let us define fruit by lives changed, souls saved, and advancement of the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ into the darkness.  Anything else is just leaves.

Posted on August 9, 2016 .

You Will Always Have the Poor...

This past Sunday, Pastor Vic taught from Psalm 41.  He showed us that "how we treat the poor, weak, and marginalized reflects our view and value of the Gospel."  He shared a story of his youngest son, Levi, showing pure and reckless (in a good way) generosity towards a stranger in need who approached their family in the Academy parking lot.

Now, I know you, because I know myself.  One part of you was deeply convicted by this, desiring to be more generous in your own life and maybe going so far as to make some personal goals and vows to yourself to do so.  Another part of you said, "OK, great story, but are you telling me that to be a Gospel-valuing Christian, I need to give money to every homeless dude who asks me for it?  I guess I'll just avoid downtown Athens from now on..."

It's OK.  You can be honest.  In some ways this not just a simple, cut-and-dry conversation.

  •  Aren't we enabling the poor when we just give money?  
  • What if they go spend it on drugs?  
  • I don't carry cash, and I don't want to get anyone's hopes up, so I'll just avoid eye contact.  
  • Or, to be honest, I just don't think about poor people until they approach me on the street, at which point I do my best to pretend I don't notice them because I wasn't prepared for an awkward social situation.

But that's not really the point, is it?  Vic's sermon, and Psalm 41 for that matter, is much more about heart evaluation than external application.  The former must lead to the latter.   

I can't tell you what to do in every interaction with someone in need.  And the truth is, there's need everywhere!  Orphans, widows, refugees, homeless - where do we even begin?  Well, let's start with what God says in Deuteronomy 15:

...there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

There will always be people in need, and the response of the Christian to this reality should be reckless generosity.  A wide open hand.  But generosity is about much more than money.  What God is really interested in is a wide open heart.

  • Are you generous with your time?  Are you willing to stop and hear someone's story, whether or not you can give them $10?
  • Are you generous with your emotions?  Are you willing to weep over the realities of our broken world - global poverty, rampant undernutrition, lack of access to clean water, sex trafficking, exploitation, child soldiering, persecution and war?
  • Are you generous with your money?  Are you willing to sacrifice your own comforts for the sake of those in need, whether in monthly, strategic donation to a gospel-centered organization or in random, impulse giving to someone who asks?

Remember, God is not interested in duty-driven, obligatory obedience.  Anyone can give to the poor, with or without the Holy Spirit.  In fact, followers of other faiths generally do it better because they believe they are earning their salvation by it.

The early church understood this, to the point that they caused the evil, pagan Roman emperor of their day (Julian) to admit in disgust that he couldn't stop the church from growing no matter how many he jailed or killed because "those internal Galileans feed our poor in addition to their own." Historian Eberhard Arnold notes:

"Most astounding to the outside observer was the extent to which poverty was overcome in the vicinity of the communities...Christians spent more money in the streets than the followers of other religions spent in their temples." 1

OH that our church would be seen this way in our community!  That we would be known by our generosity, that people would see how we treat the poor and marginalized in our communities and around the world and see the hands and feet of Jesus.

Because only a follower of Jesus can respond in gospel-driven generosity to the poor, weak and marginalized; only a follower of Jesus can reflect the nature and character of God in the way we love, care and provide for the poor; only a follower of Jesus can be guided by the Holy Spirit to know when to give money, when to give time, when to mourn with those who mourn, when to just listen, and when and how to act.

So, the question is not, "How much do I need to give to the poor" or, "How often do I have to do this?"  The question is, "Am I willing to stop, listen to the cries of the poor, listen to the Holy Spirit, and follow His lead?"  "Am I willing to open wide my hands, my hearts, my very life to those in need?"  Are we willing to ask the age-old, retro-trendy question: What Would Jesus Do?

Which leads to the final point: Jesus quoted part of Deuteronomy 15 in a somewhat unexpected way in Matthew 26.  A woman poured really expensive oil on him, and the disciples got upset because, they said, "that could have been sold and the money given to the poor."  This is logical, and I would say a pretty valid point.  But Jesus responds with, "Leave the woman alone. You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me."  

Jesus is more important than anything we can "do for Him."  Nearness to Him, pursuit of Him, must be primary.  The beauty of it is, the closer we get to Him, the more we know what He would do, and the more often we will respond in life with a Gospel-driven generosity that points back to Him, which is the whole point of our lives anyway, isn't it?  To show the world the generosity of our Savior, who, though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich.

So, Gospel-driven generosity is guided by the Holy Spirit, reflects the heart of God, and points the world to Jesus Christ.  

O God, make us generous, for your Name's sake.

 

 

1. Gaining by Losing, (pg. 126) by J.D. Greear

Posted on August 2, 2016 .

Sending Our Best

This past Sunday I taught in our Essential Doctrines class about stewardship, and in preparing for the class I was reminded of a basic, yet oft-overlooked and potentially paradigm-shifting truth:

We are responsible for (and will be held accountable for) the stewardship of EVERYTHING we have, not just our money.

Our money, of course; but also our time, our family, our home, our plans, our retirement, our gifts, talents, passions and hobbies, our relationships, and, most importantly, the gospel itself - all of these are given to us by God, not to be ends to themselves, but to be stewarded by us to bless the world and advance God's Kingdom.  I said on Sunday that we are to be conduits of blessing, not cul-de-sacs (and as John Piper reminds us, those conduits don't need to be gold-plated; copper will do just fine).

The same is true for our church - we are stewards of the blessings of God - and besides the truth of the Gospel, the most important thing we have to steward is YOU.

Our church is filled with talented, gifted, passionate, mature followers of Jesus - praise God for how He has blessed us!  But we cannot keep you here.  We would be too much like the wicked and slothful servant if we simply buried all of you here in our own ministries and our own church-saturated town.  Some of you need to leave.  

Don't misunderstand me - It's not that we don't want you here.  I'm not trying to recruit all the non-givers and email-complainers to "go out on mission" so you'll leave our church.  It's quite the opposite: we want to send our best.  And it's going to hurt.

Since we know that there are places in the world like Boston, Massachusetts, with 14,000 people per square mile, 3% Evangelical and very few gospel-preaching churches to speak of; countries like Cambodia, where 99.3% of the 16 million people living there are considered unreached with the gospel, having no access to the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ...

since we know these things, and we have the gospel in abundance, churches in abundance and mature, equipped followers of Jesus in abundance, I see no better way to steward our resources than to send our best people out from here to places without churches or where churches are struggling, places with no gospel witness - where those people can then steward their passions and gifts and talents and resources in those places where it is needed most.

A recent example of this is our dear friend, Emily Espy.   When Emily heard us start talking about the city of Boston, God began speaking to her heart.  She felt strongly that she was supposed to end up there, and since she knew her passion and desire was to teach middle school and invest in a low-income community, she started praying about the possibility of moving to Boston, teaching there and plugging into one of our partner churches.  

You may not know this, but it is no easy thing for a southern girl to bust her way into the school system up North.  Emily sent out dozens of applications, made lots of phone calls and multiple visits to the city, but nothing seemed to be working out.  She knew God was calling her there, and was planning to just move and see what God would do, but He had other plans.  On her most recent trip (just last week), Emily walked into a school she had applied to and (she can give you more details if you want to know them) was interviewed for, and later offered, the exact job she had been hoping for - middle school math in the Boston Public School (BPS) system.  She had been told that getting a job with BPS in her first year, moving from Georgia, was actually impossible.  Now when people ask her story, she gets the chance to boast in the God of the impossible.

It will not be easy to say goodbye to Emily - she has been a great friend to our family, a babysitter extraordinaire, an intern, part of our worship team and a wonderful volunteer at church and community events we put on.  She helps my family and our church family a lot, and we will miss her.  

But that is exactly why I am so excited to send her to Boston!  What a joy to say to that city, and to our church-plant partners, "Hey Boston, you're about to get one of our favorite people - she will love and serve your community as a teacher in the Boston Public School system, she will serve your church-plant, and I bet she'll even babysit.  We love you, Boston, so we're sending you Emily."

Now, of course, some of us need to stay, as well.  We are not trying to abandon the cities of Watkinsville and Athens.  But let's be honest - compared to most of the rest of the world, these towns have enough churches and Christians to see the gospel continue to spread and disciples made.  What about other towns and countries?  Have you made yourself open to the possibility that God might be calling you elsewhere?  

Let me invite you to do two things right now:

1) Pray for Emily Espy as she prepares to move to Boston.  She is working on getting an apartment and will be starting her new job on August 1st.  If you want to help her get there, check this out 

2) Pray and ask God if He might want you somewhere else.  There is nothing more "Christian" about moving to Boston or moving overseas, but there IS something more obedient about asking God regularly and being truly willing to go anywhere and do anything, anytime.  Are you praying that way?  Are you willing to go?

Posted on July 19, 2016 .

For You Were Refugees...

My current Bible reading plan (this one) has me in Deuteronomy, among other places.  

Ah, Deuteronomy...the book that reminds us not to boil a goat in its mothers milk, not to eat rock badgers (because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof) and how to respond when your axehead swings off accidentally and kills your neighbor.  

Admittedly, this can be a confusing section of Scripture.  I believe these detailed laws and rules are all pointing us to the holiness and "set-apart-ness" of our great God, and it is no small thing that Jesus actually quoted this book more than anything else in the Old Testament...but we sometimes may struggle to find day-to-day application of things like marrying female captives of war.

BUT - some things in Deuteronomy are crystal clear and so applicable we might be afraid to read them.  Take Chapter 10:12-22, for instance.  Meditate on it all when you get the chance, but for now let's look at verses 17-19:

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Do you see it?  Here we are, in 2016, in the midst of an historic and unprecedented global refugee crisis, with an expected 85,000 people to be relocated to the United States this year and a total of almost 55 million migrant and displaced peoples around the world, and in the middle of Deuteronomy we have instructions for how to respond: love them.

God appeals to 1) His own character and 2) our former state and then commands us to love.

HIS CHARACTER

God is a God of justice and love, seen most clearly on the cross where those attributes meet perfectly.  He executes justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the sojourner (note that His love is expressed in caring for them physically with food and clothing). 

What is a sojourner?  The word in the Hebrew is defined as "a temporary inhabitant; a newcomer lacking inherited rights."  A sojourner is a refugee.

As the chosen people of God, we are to reflect His nature and character in how we live and how we respond to situations and people.  When people see our response to this crisis, they should see the heart of our God.

OUR FORMER STATE

God commands His people Israel to love the sojourner because they were sojourners in Egypt. And such were we.

The Bible tells us we were enemies of God, following the course of this world, dead in our trespasses and sins, but God (being rich in mercy) made us alive together with Him, by grace, through faith.  We are temporary inhabitants on this earth and our only inheritance is death, but God adopted us as sons and the Spirit testifies that if we are sons then we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, having the full inheritance of the Son of God!  Praise Him!

In light of that, God says, we must love and care for the refugee among us.  If we truly understand where we came from, and how God loved and cared for us, we will respond in the same way to those around us.

ok, so what do I do?

And as you do...as you love the sojourner...realize that none of this is outside the sovereignty of our God.  He is doing what He has always done throughout history - taking what the enemy meant for evil and using it for good and for His glory.  What I hear from our partners like the IMB and Pioneers is that the greatest Spiritual fruit is being produced right now among displaced peoples and refugee communities.  People who formerly had no access to the gospel at all (e.g., those in Syria or Iran) are coming to Christ in massive numbers, and we can barely keep up with enough Bibles to give out or enough mature believers to disciple the new believers.  

As people are on the move, God is on the move, and He is drawing the sojourner out of darkness into His light, because He loves the refugee.

Posted on June 21, 2016 .

Do We Really Believe the Things We Believe?

DOCTRINE.

For some, it's a point to be argued.  For others, a topic to be avoided.  But for the devoted follower of Christ, it is essential for our mission.

Am I saying that we must all have a degree from a seminary before we can reach our neighbors for Christ?  I hope not, because I don't have one.  And no, that's not the point.  But our doctrine does determine how we live, so it better be good.

Ephesians 4 tells us that we were given pastors, teachers, evangelists and shepherds to equip us (the saints) for the work of ministry - essentially, to teach us good doctrine and then send us out on mission.  

But wait...how are those connected?

In essence, our knowledge of God will change 1) how we live and 2) whom we proclaim:

1. HOW WE LIVE

Do we really believe that God is glorious and worthy of praise and honor from all nations?  Do we really believe that, as our Creator, we owe Him our complete allegiance and our lives, and that He can do what He pleases with us?  Do we really believe that Jesus is the only way to know the Father, and thus the only way to an eternity with Him in Heaven, and that those who don't know the Father through Jesus will spend an eternity separated from Him in a place called Hell?  

If we believe these truths, we will live our lives devoted to God and to the proclamation of His Name among all nations.  If we believe these truths, we will go anywhere, do anything, give it all, to see Him worshipped among all peoples.

2. WHOM WE PROCLAIM

Think about the way things worked in the Old Testament: why did God choose a people and give them the Law?  Why did God have the Temple built to such specifications?  What we see in Scripture is that God set apart a people (the Israelites) and a place (the Temple) to SHOW HIMSELF, his nature and character, to the other nations.  That people could look at Israel, look at the Temple, and see a Holy God, a set-apart God, a God worthy of worship and praise, a God who is powerful and unlike any other false god.

What about now?  We don't go to the temple anymore.  Most of us aren't Israelites by birth.  Has the plan changed?  

NO!  When we follow Christ, we are "grafted in" to Israel, and 1 Corinthians tells us that WE are now the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  We carry the Spirit of the living God, Creator of the Universe, wherever we go.  And with our lives and our words we proclaim what He is like, His nature and character.  What was once SEEN in Israel and in the Temple is now TOLD by the living temples of the people of God.  

So we better know the God that we are supposed to proclaim.  We better have good doctrine if we are going to go and tell the nations about Him. As Peter reminds us, we must be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us about the hope that we have.

OK, I get the theory: give it to me practically.

Doctrine: We serve one God in three persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Importance for mission: 1) This is a hard teaching for our kids to understand.  If we are going to raise them as disciples that know and trust God, we must be prepared to explain the Trinity (even to a 5-yr-old: my son asks more questions about this than anything else).  2) This doctrine is a stumbling block to Muslims, who believe that we (Christians) worship God the Father, Mary the Mother and Jesus the Son.  That we worship multiple gods, and that we worship a God who had intercourse with Mary to produce Jesus.  We must be prepared to explain the truth of this doctrine.  3) Hindus worship multiple gods (polytheism) and would likely be quick to "accept" Christianity as just another set of 3 gods to add to the list, instead of submitting to the total Lordship of the ONE TRUE GOD.

Doctrine: Our God is a personal God

Importance for mission: every other religion in the world has holy books and holy prophets that offer lists of rules and maxims; Christianity is different because God didn't just send information about Himself through a messenger...He sent HIMSELF, because He wants a personal relationship with us.  THIS is the good news.

Doctrine: God is all-loving (and is Himself the definition of love)

Importance for mission: our world is defining love by its own standards of acceptance and tolerance, and then judging God and Christianity for not conforming to such a definition.  We must be able to define "love" from what we see and know about God, and be prepared to teach and demonstrate true and full love to the world

Doctrine: Jesus is the only way to God and an eternity with Him in Heaven

Importance for mission: no matter how offensive this is, if we truly believe it, we cannot be silent - we must tell everyone and plead with our lost friends and family to believe the truth.  If we truly believe this, we will pray desperately, give sacrificially and go strategically to the hard places, the dark places, proclaiming the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

Doctrine: The Bible is authoritative, infallible, inerrant, sufficient and eternal

Importance for mission: 1) The Bible is how we know what our mission is, and if it is authoritatively without error...we must submit our lives to it and live on that mission; 2) The teachings of the Bible are the only way we know the Gospel that we are to proclaim, and the only way we know what a "disciple" is, so we cannot complete our mission if we do not trust it entirely

I could go on, but you get the point: Doctrine matters for mission.  And doctrine INSPIRES a life on mission.  If we truly believe all the things we claim, our lives will be radically abandoned to the cause of Christ.  Now it's time to check ourselves - is our doctrine about God and the Bible simply an accurate set of answers to a test?  Or is it guiding our decisions and the way we live our lives?  Do we really believe the things we believe?   

Posted on June 7, 2016 .

Why Mid-Term?

This may not be a term you are used to (pun intended).

You know what it means for someone to go to the mission field "long-term" and hopefully you've been on (or certainly at least heard of) "short-term mission trips."  But what is this "mid-term" thing?  

This past Sunday we stood in front of you and commissioned out 21 college students for a summer of mid-term mission, ranging from 6 weeks in Boston to 10 weeks in South Asia.  A few were left off the list (by mistake) and a few more were left off the stage (because they are already gone) but what a beautiful sight!

Yes, but once again...why are they doing that?  What is mid-term mission?

Categorically we define "mid-term" as anything longer than 2 weeks and shorter than 2 years.  But categories aren't really that important.

More important is the purpose.  Short-term trips are important and, when done correctly, are an integral part of our long-term mission strategy as a church and the strategy of our partners overseas.  But the reality is, there is only so much one can do in a short-term trip, and only so much one can learn and experience in 2 weeks or less.  

We send people mid-term for 2 main reasons:

  1. To make a longer, deeper investment in our long-term partners.  Students giving 6 weeks in Boston can truly make a long-term impact on church-planting work through NAMB in that city.  One of our students spending 10 weeks in South Asia can build relationships, make connections, and serve strategically alongside the long-term workers she is partnering with, in ways that are just impossible in shorter amounts of time.
  2. To give those going a true taste of life on mission in a different context.  Most of these mid-termers are asking big questions right now, like "where should I live after college" or "Is God calling me overseas long-term?" and all of them are asking "What does it look like for me to do what I'm good at for the glory of God, somewhere strategic on the mission of God?"  Spending a summer in Southeast Asia, for example, means that you get past the romanticized view of mission and truly see what it's like to live life day to day somewhere completely foreign.  In many cases, these students will see what it's like to learn language, learn culture, and to share the gospel with people who have never heard.  We want our people to be doing, asking and learning these things as they live their lives openhanded before God, willing to go anywhere and do anything for the sake of His glory among all peoples.    

So, for you guys here with me in Watkinsville and Athens this summer:

  1. Join me in praying for these mid-term goers that we commissioned out this past Sunday.  I hope you kept your Sunday Paper, and if not, email me at chris@watkinsville.org and I will send you a list of names.  Pray specifically that these students would:
    1. Gain clarity and confidence from God on how He would have them live strategically on His mission

    2. Be a help and encouragement to the long-term workers they partner with

  2. Be asking God these same questions as you live life here.  Never assume that where He has you is where He will always keep you.  A regular prayer of mine is, "Lord, everything is yours and everything is on the table.  My life, my family, my comfort, my city, my home, my plans, my future, my resources...all of it is yours.  We will go where you ask us and do what you ask us.  We are listening."  I invite you to pray something like this to, on a regular basis, with open mind and open hands.
  3. Begin thinking and praying now about the possibility of YOU going mid-term (or short-term) next year.  
Posted on May 24, 2016 .

What We Learned From SECRET CHURCH 2016

In case you were unable to join us* for the epic, 6.5-hour Bible study we had with virtual-David-Platt a few weeks ago, I wanted to share some highlights from the night.

But before we get into the details, let me say one of the MOST IMPORTANT things we learned is that we are blessed beyond measure here, with our freedom and access to the gospel.  We can speak what we want, when we want, believe what we want, and pretty much do what we want.  Let us not WASTE this freedom, and let us PRAY for those who don't share it (like believers in INDIA, which was our country of focus for the night).  

I'm excited to share that we raised almost $1300 that night for the Persecuted Church around the globe.  Praise God for the generosity of our people!  Now, what else did we learn?

The topic was: A GLOBAL GOSPEL IN A WORLD OF RELIGIONS, and the night was focused on:

  1. Discussing the basic beliefs of Animism, Hindusim, Buddhism, Islam and Atheism
  2. Discerning how they differ from Christianity
  3. Discovering ways to build bridges from those false religions to the one true Gospel

From the start, we learned some eye-opening stats on the current (and future) state of our world.  Here are just a few:

  • There are nearly 10,000 distinct religions and para-religions in the World, and 270 of those religions have followings of over 500,000 individuals.
  • Christianity is the largest of these groups (at 1.9 billion followers), but that is only 1/4 of the World's population, and vastly overestimates the reality of people actually following Jesus (the 1.9 billion includes all self-identifying "Christians," from Roman Catholic to nominal cultural Christians and a lot of things in-between).
  • By 2050, the number of Muslims will nearly EQUAL the number of Christians in the world. Between now and then, the number of Muslims is projected to increase at twice the rate of the world's population.
  • The world is moving: Between 2000 and 2010 alone, nine countries gained over 1 million international migrants
  • The presence of Christianity is moving: by 2050, 4 out of every 10 Christians will live in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • By 2050, the subcontinent of India will have the largest Hindu population in the world AND the largest Muslim population in the world
  • By 2050, Christians in North America are projected to decrease by 12% while the Nonreligious are projected to increase by 10%.

We were challenged with the question, "Is the gospel worthy of our CONFIDENCE and the COMMITMENT of our lives to make it known in the world?" With a resounding answer of "YES!" we were reminded of that gospel, and the importance of speaking it with clarity.  This simple acrostic was given (with much deeper explanation) to help:

  • G:  God's Character
    • the gospel is good news about GOD
  • O:  Offense of Sin
    • the gospel addresses the problem of humanity's sinful REBELLION against God
  • S:  Sufficiency of Christ
    • the gospel centers around JESUS CHRIST
  • P:  Personal Response
    • the gospel is a call to REPENT and BELIEVE
  • E:  Eternal Urgency
    • HEAVEN is a glorious reality for everyone who believes the gospel; HELL is a dreadful reality for everyone who does not believe the gospel
  • L:  Life Transformation
    • all who believe the gospel are a NEW CREATION, and are forgiven, justified, reconciled and adopted

We were reminded as well that all who believe this gospel will be SAVED from their sin, and all who believe this gospel have been SENT into the world.

With all that information, the reminder of our command and commission, and the confidence of the Holy Spirit in us to complete the task before us, we were introduced to the five major religions around the world (who they are and what they believe) and given practical tools for how to share the gospel with people from these worldviews and beliefs.

There is NO WAY I can even begin to summarize the final 4-hours of fast-paced information-fire-hydrant from that night.  Please see the bottom of the page if you want to go deeper.  I want you to go deeper.  For now, let me briefly introduce you to these five groups and hope that it sparks a desire in you to learn more, pray more and engage more:

ANIMISM

  • NOT just found in Africa
  • NOT just tribal peoples in villages and jungles wearing masks and dancing around fires
  • NOT just primitive people with no education
  • The most eye-opening section of the night for me was this one on Animism.  The reality is, most of what we label as "post-modern relativism" and "vague spirituality" that is rampant across our culture today is actually just an Americanized Animism.
  • Animists belive that the physical world is interpenetrated by spiritual forces, and that objects and events have spiritual significance and causes 
  • Know anybody who uses a lot of "spiritual" vocabulary but has no knowledge of God or love for Christ?  We would call that person an Animist.  Be watchful for Animism creeping into nominal and cultural Christianity, around you and even in your own heart.

HINDUISM

  • Population: over 915 million people in 51 countries, among 1,235 people groups (1,115 of those people groups are considered unreached with the gospel)
  • All Indians are NOT Hindu (and all Hindus are not Indians)
  • Hindus do NOT pray to cows
  • Hinduism does NOT necessarily have a certain founder, a clear authority, a common creed or consistent beliefs
  • Hinduism is a complex set of religions, pantheism mixed with polytheism; sacred writings but with different gurus of varying importance
  • Hindus practice their religion however they want, whenever they want to whatever degree they want, but some important components are:
    • Yoga (a path of mental, physical and spiritual discipline leading to salvation)
    • Mantras (prayers, chants and utterances which aid meditation and worship)
    • Ritual Bathing (daily before devotions; periodically in rivers with cleansing power)
    • Festivals (celebrating events in history, expressing devotion to gods)

BUDDHISM

  • Population: over 250 million people in 62 countries among 354 people groups (296 of which are unreached with the gospel)
  • All Buddhists are NOT vegetarians
  • Buddhists do NOT just meditate all the time
  • Buddhists do NOT just wear robes
  • Buddhists believe:
    • all of life is suffering
    • the cause of suffering is selfish desire
    • we are caught in a cycle of selfishness leading to suffering, where the rule of karma reigns
    • the only way to overcome selfish desire, and to achieve salvation, is self effort

ISLAM

  • Population: over 1.7 billion people in 149 countries among 2,317 people groups (2,121 of whom are considered unreached with the gospel)
  • All Muslims are NOT Arabs
  • All Muslims are NOT terrorists who hate Americans
  • All Muslims do NOT hate Jesus
  • A Muslim is someone who submits to God based on the teachings of Muhammad (as found in the Qur'an)
    • Islam means "submission"
    • Central Islamic creed: "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet"
    • The Qur'an is NOT a history, is dictated by only ONE human author, and is considered by Muslims to be the final HOLY BOOK, superseding all other books (such as the Bible, which they consider holy but corrupted)
  • A good Muslim will adhere to the FIVE PILLARS
    • The Shahada (Confession) that 'there is no god but Allah...'
    • The Salat (Prayers) made five times a day, facing Mecca
    • The Zakat (Giving of alms) or at least 2.5% of income to the poor
    • The Sawm (Fast) of Ramadan
    • The Hajj (Pilgrimage) to Mecca
  • A good Muslim believes in:
    • God
    • Angels
    • Prophets
    • Holy Books
    • Divine Decree
    • Final Judgment
  • An important note: Islam teaches that humans are born spiritually neutral, capable of obeying God's commands, and that they remain this way even after they've sinned. Humans are weak and forgetful, but they are not fallen. Our great need, therefore, is not salvation, but instruction. Consequently, Islam has prophets, but NO SAVIOR. Only Allah determines if a Muslim is worthy to enter paradise.

ATHEISM

  • Population: Over 1.6 billion people in 110 countries among 287 people groups (198 of which are considered unreached with the gospel)
  • Atheists DON'T just believe "nothing"
  • Atheists are NOT without a moral system
  • Atheists are NOT just communist, left-wing or liberal
  • Atheists believe there is no God (or are no gods); Agnostics believe it is impossible to know if there is a God (or gods); Secular Humanists apply atheistic/agnostic belief to a formal ideological system
  • Atheism, in general:
    • affirms the natural, denies the supernatural
    • believes scientific authority is superior to any other authority
    • believes ethics and morals are determined over time by results in culture through human discovery and achievement
    • believes ethics and morals develop over time through progress in society

SO, in light of all of this (and much, much more) we are given THREE CONCLUSIONS:

  1. An eternal HELL awaits every person in the world who DOES NOT believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. An eternal HEAVEN awaits every person in the world who DOES believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  3. God has ordained our MOUTHS to be the MEANS by which the gospel goes to every person in the world.

and THREE EXHORTATIONS:

  1. Let's PRAY PASSIONATELY
  2. Let's GIVE SACRIFICIALLY
  3. Let's GO CONFIDENTLY
    1. to people right around us
    2. to peoples around the world

*as a side-note: if you would like to view the content, by yourself or with your Life Group, email chris@watkinsville.org and I can give you access to all 6+ hours of the Secret Church 16 Content

 

Posted on May 17, 2016 .

170 Years Later...

OK, I've heard of David Platt, but what is this "IMB" thing?

Well, let’s start with a bit of history: In 1845 the International Mission Board (or IMB) was founded at the first Southern Baptist Convention as part of “one sacred effort, for the propagation of the Gospel.” Southern Baptist churches believed that by working cooperatively, they could accomplish more for God’s kingdom. That belief still stands strong today.  Fruit can be hard to quantify, and numbers can be tricky, but we know that in just one year’s time, IMB field personnel (there are 4,000 or so of them currently serving long-term) shared the message of Jesus with 1.7 million people and started 6,200 churches.

Of course, if you grew up Southern Baptist, the IMB is a household name - they define “missions” for us, and unfortunately, we have sometimes assumed that their job is to DO “missions” for us as well.  That misunderstanding, along with many other things, is being flipped on its head by our new IMB president, David Platt.  As he says so often, ‘The Great Commission was given to the local church,’ and he is pleading with us to recognize our role and join with the IMB in this great work.  Our job is not simply to give them our people - our job is to send our people in partnership.

So, moving forward, the IMB will focus on serving and mobilizing local churches and training and equipping Christians and church leaders, pastors and missionaries to make disciples and multiply churches across cultures. They hope this will enable limitless men and women to participate in global mission through a multiplicity of pathways and opportunities — surrounding their full-time, fully supported personnel with self-supported students, professionals and retirees who are leveraging their studies, vocations and relocations for the spread of the gospel, from the most populated cities to the most extreme places in the world.

Do you see the vision?  Limitless missionary teams.  Endless possibilities.  But for any of this to happen, we (the local church) must be willing to sacrifice.

Are we willing to give generously to the mission?  Are we willing to send our BEST people to the nations?  Are we willing to let our sons and daughters go to the hard places?

Are YOU willing to go?  Have you asked God the question? Are you living with open hands, letting Him decide where you live out your days?  Could you relocate your practice, or get reassigned with work?  Could you finish your degree at an international university?  Could you give 2+ years to work alongside a long-term missionary?  Have you considered retiring abroad?

If we aren’t willing to ask these questions, and make these sacrifices, it doesn't matter what the IMB does - the mission was given to us, the local church, and the IMB exists moving forward to equip and mobilize us to see all peoples reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Are you in?

Posted on May 2, 2016 .

To Care For...

Sometimes the teachings of Scripture can be difficult to understand and apply, or even debatable among different groups.  "How literal is this," "How far do we take that," "How does that translate into our context," and so on.

But sometimes it's really clear.  

Like when Jesus says "All authority on Heaven and on Earth has been given to me, therefore GO, make disciples of all nations..."

Or when His brother, James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, makes this statement about pure religion:

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

Hard to argue with the clear and simple message - and it makes sense, doesn't it?  Our God describes Himself as "Holy" and says "Be holy, as I am holy." As we keep ourselves 'unstained from the world,' we pursue a "set-apartness", a holiness that reflects our Father in Heaven.  AND, our God describes Himself as "Father of the fatherless and protector of widows." We bear His image and reflect His nature when we do the same.

But how do we do that?  I know there's a lot going on with families at Watkinsville adopting and fostering, but...are we all supposed to adopt and/or serve in Foster Care?  If so, where do I start?  What if that's not my calling, or I'm not in a place to do one of those things.  How do I practically care for orphans?

Enter: Chosen for Life Ministries  

Chosen for Life is a close ministry partner of Watkinsville First Baptist - which means we support them, believe in them and love what they do.  They are a Christian ministry dedicated to educating and engaging our community on the many aspects of Adoption, Foster Care, and Orphan Care.  

The most visible expressions of their ministry are a yearly conference, a foster care initiative with care teams, and adoption assistance grants.  

Yearly Conference

  • 2016 saw the 5th annual Chosen for Life Conference, and was hosted for the third time at Watkinsville.  
  • This year's conference saw over 230 adults in attendance with 135 children being cared for during the conference.  
  • 50 families from the community were able to receive 8 of the 15 yearly credit hours that they need to continue as foster parents - most of these families are unchurched.

Foster Care Initiative

  • There are close to 300 children in the foster system between Clarke and Oconee Counties, and currently only 45 active foster homes (praise God, the number of homes has almost doubled in the past two years!)
  • Chosen for Life has trained 35 teams and close to 350 volunteers to act as "Care Teams" to surround active foster families and help them thrive in their role.
  • 19 churches in the Clarke/Oconee area are involved in this together

Adoption Assistance Grants

  • Chosen for Life has raised $135,000 in the past few years to give away in the form of 47 adoption grants which helped bring 57 former-orphans into forever-homes (our family received a grant when we brought home Lizzie)
  • These funds are raised through a project called "Both Hands," which serves local widows at the same time it raises money for grants.  The goal for this year's project (on Saturday, April 30) is to raise $107,000. 100% of money raised goes to adoption grants.

And there's more to come.

Chosen for Life has recently brought on two new staff, a full-time Executive Director and a part-time Director of Development (our own Brian King).  They have a vision to see this ministry expand, both in it's current work and to new initiatives.  The years ahead should hold more training and education opportunities, more foster families trained and supported, and ultimately, more children cared for.  

"He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing," and He does that through ministries like Chosen for Life.  Do you want to be a part of this movement?  Do you want to reflect God's glory and nature in how you care for orphans? 

Contact Chosen for Life: it's what they do. 

Posted on April 20, 2016 .

What is Secret Church & Why Should I Go?

What we call 'church' in America looks vastly different from the expression of church in other cultures - especially in places where church is illegal in the first place.  

We praise God for the freedom we have to meet openly in buildings, to advertise our services publicly, and to worship Jesus our king loudly and without fear.  The additional comforts, freedoms and programs included in the version of church that we experience here do not make it inherently better or worse than church elsewhere, but what if all of that were stripped away?

What if all we had was the Word of God and nothing else?  No band, no large building, no church staff, no children's programming, no youth or college or...anything else.  But we had the WORD. 

Would it be enough?

This is the question that led IMB President David Platt (former pastor and author) to start something called "Secret Church," an in-depth one-night study focused on nothing but the Bible and how it comes to bear on our lives. 

And, as we study the Word, we are reminded that we have millions of brothers and sisters around the globe, living under fear and persecution because of their faith, who risk their livelihood and their lives to gather and study the Book we too often take for granted. Secret Church is also a chance to remember, honor and pray for the persecuted church.  Learn more about that here.

This year, the topic of Secret Church is "A Global Gospel in a World of Religions."  We will look at the Word, exploring the claims of Christ in the gospel and consider how these claims inform the way we understand religions in the world and impact the way we live when surrounded by varied believers with diverse belief systems.  We will address questions like:

  • So how are we to think and what are we to do in this massive marketplace of religious ideas?
  • Is there one right way to believe or are there many right ways to believe?
  • Is there one right way to live or are there many right ways to live?
  • Specifically, how does the gospel of Christ compare and contrast with other world religions?
  • And if we believe this gospel, then how should we share it specifically with people of other faiths?
  • For that matter, why would we share it specifically with people of other faiths?

DETAILS

when: Friday, April 29 6:30 PM - 12:30 AM 

where: Watkinsville First Baptist Life Building

cost: $7 (pay online or at the door)

  • your fee includes a workbook and access to very tasty coffee (Jittery Joes)
  • Register here:

 

 

Posted on April 12, 2016 .

What is SENDathens & Why Should I Go?

We talk a lot around here about "sending" people "to the nations" and about "planting churches and making disciples among unreached peoples."  But what does any of that actually MEAN?

What does it really take to SEND someone?  Where are we sending them?  WHY are we sending them?  What does "unreached" mean?  We must answer these questions together, as a church and as a community of local churches, if we are going to have an eternal impact on global lostness.

SENDathens is a conference, but really it's a movement - a movement of churches, organizations and mission leaders around Athens and Watkinsville that share a common vision: to see more people raised up from our city and sent to the unreached peoples of the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We gather together monthly to pray (to the Lord of the Harvest, that He would send out more laborers), to plan events (like this conference) and to brainstorm new ways to 1) raise awareness of the global realities of lostness and 2) raise up workers to go in response.

The SENDathens conference on April 15/16 is just one piece of that bigger vision - but it's a really important one, and you should go.

"But I know I am NOT called to move overseas as a missionary."  -  Good.  This conference is for YOU.  Those who are called to STAY are called to SEND, and this conference is designed to help you understand what it means to send well.

"But I know that I AM CALLED to move overseas, so I already know what will be talked about."  -  Good.  This conference is for YOU. We want to encourage you, connect with you and connect others to you.  We want you to be reminded of your calling and maybe God will use this time to clarify some of the specifics of that calling.

"I would love to go, but it would be hard to figure out childcare."  -  Good.  We've got you covered.  The SENDathens group will be providing childcare reimbursement, so hire the best babysitter you know, go have a nice dinner then come to the conference.  We'll pay you back.

"OK, how do I register?"  -  Good.  Go to www.sendathens.com and take it from there.  

Posted on April 4, 2016 .

Why Christians should smell different

"There's something about your wife - there's an aura, a vibe...I can only describe it as light...she's the most special person I've ever been around. What is this?"

These were the words of a woman, we'll call her "S", who has spent her entire life in an area of South Asia we would consider unreached with the gospel.  For her, this has meant: thousands of gods, long lists of rules & rituals, and utter uncertainty of life after death.

Then she met A & A.

Likely some of the only Christians "S" has ever met, A & A were sent by Watkinsville to live on mission in that part of the world.  "S" is helping them learn about life, language and culture in their new city, and in the process, she is learning a few things too.  They have had many opportunities to share the good news of the gospel with this woman -- which she has listened to with interest and joy -- and they are praying and believing that she might be saved. 

2 Corinthians 2:14&15 says:

"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (emphasis mine)

What does that mean?  Well, it means Christians should smell different.  Or, to put it another way, people should notice that there is "something about us" in the way we live, speak, and interact with those around us.  If Christ lives inside us, we should look different from the world - really, we should look like Christ.  And it should cause people like "S" to ask the question, "What is this?"

You see, "S" is familiar with the smell of burning incense - it's the smell of dead religion and empty hope, burned up day after day at alter after alter set up to appease a myriad of false gods. But the smell of a Romans 12:1 life, the smell of #EasterLife, of a Christian offering their body as a "living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God," well that's a new smell altogether.   And that's only half the story.

Romans 10:14 says:

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"

And, as Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 3:15, we should ""always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you".  We are not called to simply walk around, silently 'smelling' like Christians, hoping that someone will ask.  Our command is to go and tell, and our message is validated by the aroma of our lives.  

So let us ask ourselves:

  • Does our life spread the fragrance of the knowledge of God?  
  • Would anyone have a reason to ask what's different about us?
  • Are we ready to answer the "what's that smell?" question?  
  • Might God be calling you to go spread His fragrance in another part of the world?  Have you considered "offering your body as a living sacrifice" in a place where the "aroma of Christ" is absent, and your life lived out in faith might cause people like "S" to ask "what is this??"

And let us pray for A & A:

  • That they would continue to adjust well to their new city
  • That their marriage would stay strong, and they would grow closer to each other and to God
  • For their second son, who will be born in April - pray for healthy baby and healthy mama
  • For logistics related to visa issues, that God would be sovereign in the details and they would be shown favor
  • For "S" and her household, that they would believe and be saved

   

 

Posted on March 24, 2016 .