The Color of Church

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., once said “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Even after decades of minority civil rights progress, this continues to be the reality in America today. The Multiracial Congregations Project, led by Michael Emerson, a Rice University sociologist, defines a multiracial congregation as one where no one racial group is more than 80% of the congregation.  Taking that definition as a baseline, less than 4% of all American Christian congregations are multiracial.  Just as in Dr. King’s day, the church continues to be the most segregated institution in our nation.

The Color of Church, by Rodney Woo is a practical and biblically sound treatment of the multiracial reconciliation issue in the American church.  He defines a multiracial congregation as, “a congregation composed of racially diverse believers united by their faith in Christ, who make disciples of all the nations in anticipation of the ultimate racial reunion around the throne of God.”

As pastor of the Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, Woo led his congregation to become one of the few truly multiracial American congregations. The book contends it is God’s will for all churches to move toward becoming multiracial by intentionally reaching across the dividing lines of race and ethnicity.  According to Woo, this biblical mandate is found in Revelation 7:9a.

“After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb.”

The goal however, of becoming a multiracial church is not diversity, but biblical reconciliation through the work of Christ, culminating in bringing together all nations, and people into the fellowship of His body.  Racial reconciliation begins with God, and God’s image in all people.  Woo states, “How we treat another created being reflects how we treat our Creator.”  The church, as the Body of Christ, more than any other social group or organization, should celebrate our diversity as a way to bring us together, rather than using it to divide and segregate us into “us” and “them.”

Is it God’s will for all churches to be multiracial?  This is a tough  question.  Many in our denomination celebrate racial diversity, and see nothing wrong with churches composed of believers of different races; but also believe real and meaningful worship occurs best when the races and ethnicities have separate congregations.  Citing practical problems such as language barriers, they insist “optimal church growth” requires a racial, ethnic, and social compatibility between the churched and unchurched community around the church.  I have to admit, this is the position I have held for years.

This book has challenged my thinking, and driven me to the Word of God.  Rodney Woo’s position is both biblical and practical.  In light of Scripture, it is difficult to justify our homogeneous models of church planting and church growth.  Any attempt to do so  ignores a wealth of Scriptural examples and exhortations to reach out and disciple the nations.

The greatest contribution this book makes to the discussion of multiracial reconciliation is found in Chapter 8 where the author presents his “hand model.”  In brief, the “hand model” is way of measuring or gauging where people are when they come to a multiracial congregation. Briefly the model identifies five positions people take:  1) advocates of prejudice, 2) homogeneous advocates, 3) seekers – looking for something different, 4) fully integrated believers, and 5)”missionaries” for the cause of multiracial congregations.  This “model” is a valuable tool to help congregations (and individuals) carefully examine where they fall in the area of crossing racial barriers.

The final section of the book is by far the most practical.  This is true, at least in part, because Pastor Woo has lived and experienced the transformation process from a traditional, homogeneous white congregation to a vibrant multiracial congregation. He relates his church’s journey to become multiracial, and to live out the biblical model of racial reconciliation.   He offers practical advice for those who desire to take a similar path, and deals specifically with the critical issues of worship and leadership in a multiracial setting.

This book is everything the title implies, and more.  I guarantee you will enjoy reading it whether or not you completely agree with the author.

Is There a Hole in Our Gospel?

As never before in the history of Christendom, those of us who call ourselves Christians, are standing face to face with a reality we cannot ignore – the daily plight of 6.7 billion people living in abject poverty, suffering famine, enduring rampant diseases, and suffering shocking injustices; which together, produces unimaginable human suffering on a scale never before seen in human history.  Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, brings this harsh reality into clear focus in his book, The Hole In Our Gospel.

I must admit, this raw, unvarnished picture of human suffering was difficult to read.  Several times I had to put it down, and wipe the tears from my eyes.  More than once, I closed the book, and went to my knees in prayer.   Reading this book will give you a new appreciation for what Jesus meant by the words, “unto the least of these.”

In a knowledgeable, loving way, Richard Stearns brings his readers face to face with the reality of human suffering, and the unnecessary plight of millions of poor around the world, most of whom are children.

Reading this book reminded me of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and it made be ask the tough question, “Who is my neighbor?”  I believe the church in America stands at a crossroad of titanic proportions.  We have the opportunity to answer this question in a way that could radically and eternally transform our world!

Here is what I mean.  Addressing the core issues underlying poverty and injustice requires three things:  awareness, access and ability.  For the first time in the history of the church, all three are available to this generation of American Christians.  Advances in communication over the past fifty years – communication satellites, cable TV, the internet, YouTube, and cell phones – have made globalization a reality for nearly everyone in America.  We live in a media-saturated and internet-connected world. We know, or we can find out, what is happening around the world almost instantly.

We also have access to places and people around the globe as never before.  International travel is possible for most Americans today.  In fact, over 150 million Americans traveled internationally last year.  In our association of 128 churches, groups are going on international mission trips every month.   Access is no longer a barrier.

Finally, we also have the ability to do something about human need around the world.  As Stearns points out, “The American Church . . . is the wealthiest community of Christians in the history of Christendom.  How wealthy?  The total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion.” We have the ability!

This generation of American churchgoers has the awareness, the access and the ability to address the world-wide problems of poverty and human suffering like no previous generation in history.  So, what’s the problem?  Why aren’t we doing more?

I’m convinced awareness, access and ability alone is not enough.  There must also be a desire to do something.  This is the missing ingredient!  I also believe the desire to act is inextricably linked to attitude.  Our attitude toward the world, toward ourselves, and toward our resources determines what we do with what we know.  So, how do we change our attitude?

In my opinion, only One person can change our self-serving, self-centered attitude, and that person is Jesus.  Paul challenged the believers in Philippi, “Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had.  Though He was God, He did not demand and cling to His rights as God.  He made Himself nothing; He took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And, in human form He obediently humbled Himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

In other words, we need to have God’s attitude toward the world.  His attitude is clearly described in John 3:16.  Also, we need to have Jesus’ attitude, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Each character in the parable of the Good Samaritan made a choice.  In a very real sense, the Church is walking down a road in human history, and we’ve come upon those whose lives and future has been ravaged by the injustice, disease, and poverty.  They are beaten down, and are totally helpless to defend themselves or pick themselves up.   Death is imminent and certain.  What will we do?  We are aware of who they are, and where they are; we have access to them; and we have the ability to do something.  What will we choose to do?

And, more importantly, when we stand before the “righteous Judge on that day” what will He say we did or did not do, “unto the least of these”?

I would urge you to read Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole In Our Gospel for yourself.  I guarantee it will have an impact on how you understand your responsibility as a follower of Christ.  It may frighten you, but it will also empower and inspire you to be “salt and light” in the dark and bleak world.  It challenged me to take a long look at the resources God has entrusted me so I might know how He wants me to invest them in His Kingdom.

The Feud Is Over!

Perhaps no feud is more a part of American folklore than the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys.  These two families are real families that lived, and still live along the Kentucky – West Virginia border.  Their feud is legendary.  It has even become a part of pop-culture including one episode of the game show “Family Feud,” featuring descendants of the two clans squaring off in a more civilized fashion.

Around the time of the Civil War, the McCoy family joined the Union Army, and the Hatfield family joined the Confederate Army.  Living so close together on opposite sides of the war caused conflict. The actual feud began when a member of the McCoy family returned home from the war injured, only to be killed by a band of Homeguard Confederates, led by one of the Hatfields. 

The family feud really heated up in 1878 when Randolph McCoy accused the Hatfields of stealing his hog.  The Hatfields said the hog was theirs, since it was on their land. Meanwhile, the McCoys claimed the pig had their family’s markings on its ear, making it theirs.  The situation became so tense that violence erupted, and Ellison Hatfield was shot to death.  Retaliation beget retaliation, and over the next ten years, a dozen people died, including women and children.   Since that time, not as much bloodshed has occurred, but the feud has carried over for many years in lawsuits and court battles over land rights and burial sites.  

It may not have made many headlines, but after 125 years, the feud was officially and legally over on June 14th, 2003.  On that day, the descendants of the original clans met in Pikeville, Kentucky to sign an official end to more than a century of hostility.

There was an end to another form of hostility essential to the story in Acts 10:1-35.  That hostility was the hostility between the Jews and Gentiles.  Its end didn’t result from a treaty signed in black ink in some remote court house.  It ended on a lonely hill called Golgotha, and it was signed in blood. What did away with that two-millennium-long division was the death of one man.

The hostility between Jews and Gentiles in the first century closely parallels the racial and ethnic divide that exists today.  The walls of separation between Jews and Gentiles pervaded every area of life.  The same is true today!  Only the death of Jesus Christ will bring down the impenetrable walls of hostility, and bring about true healing and restoration.

In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul puts it this way:

” For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  (Ephesians 2:11-16)

 
There is no longer a dividing wall.  We must guard against putting up walls of our own among the people we meet. In Christ, there are no walls of separation. The gospel is an inclusive message of hope for all people. We should work to joyfully and eagerly spread the news of Jesus both here and around the world. 

Steve Doyle, pastor

Harbins Community Church, Dacula GA

Unleashed

Sometimes, certain words catch my attention and I can’t seem to get them out of my head. It’s like hearing a song over and over that just won’t go away. This happened to me with the word “unleash.”  The word caught my attention through a new ministry we recently launched, called “Unleashed by Design,” a non-profit leadership development organization.  I fell in love with the idea of helping leaders discover God’s unique design and purpose for their lives, and in so doing, become “unleashed.”

While pondering the word, I found a word in the New Testament that could also be translated “unleashed.”  In John 11:14, Lazarus had been raised from the dead, and Jesus ordered Lazarus be unloosed from the grave clothes that held him bound.  Wow!  What a picture of our potential.  We have been raised out of our old life, our deadness, and the control of our sinful nature.  Being raised from this “grave” however, is only the beginning.  The challenge now is to be “loosed,” and “set free,” from the trappings and traditions that keep us bound to the “old life.”  Oh, to be truly set free! 

 The adverbial form of the same root word translated “unloose” in the story of Lazarus, is found in Acts 28:11.  In fact, it is the last word in the Book of Acts, and it sets the stage for what God wants to do through the church in every generation.  It simply says Paul was sharing the good news of Jesus “unhinderedly”– in an unhindered way “nothing holding him back.”

I would encourage you to think about the following questions.  What seems to be holding you back from fully living out the Gospel?  What stronghold does the enemy have on your life, which, if you were released from it, would quite literally transform your life? 

If you, like many of us, struggle with being completely “unleashed,” I would recommend two books by Peter Scazzero:  Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and The Emotionally Healthy Church.  Reading these books, you will see how the author personally experienced a radical transformation through connecting spiritual health with emotional health.  In his own words, he says, “For the first fifteen years of my life as a Christian, I rarely took time to look deeply into my heart.”  He adds, “The real horror is how easy it is to remain in a comfortable, distorted illusion about our lives.  Something may not be true, but we become so used to it that it feels right.  Others who live and work closely with us can usually pick up some of our inconsistencies and defensive maneuvers. Few however, have the courage and skill to point them out in a mature and loving way.”

My prayer for all of us is to be fully unleashed to discover and delight in being all God intends us to be, in the place, and in the way God designed for us.  May we be “unleashed” for Him today!

The Invasion of Grace

One of the most spectacular and magnificent 19th-century military invasions did not conquer new lands or win a great war.  It is rarely mentioned in history books, or celebrated during any holiday.  Yet, this military invasion, because of the monumental resources committed and logistics involved, is considered by military historians to be one of the greatest military invasions of all time.  It took place in Ethiopia in 1868, and is considered an equal military masterpiece to the Allies’ 1944 invasion of France in World War II.

The scenario was this: For four years, Emperor Theodore III of Ethiopia had held a group of 53 European captives (30 adults and 23 children), including some missionaries and a British consul, in a remote 9,000-foot-high bastion deep in the interior of Ethiopia. By letter, Queen Victoria pleaded in vain with Theodore to release the captives. Finally, after exhausting all diplomatic channels, the government ordered a full-scale military expedition from India to invade Ethiopia, not to conquer the country and make it a British colony, but to rescue the tiny band of civilians.

The British spared no expense in their pursuit of freedom for the captives. They expended millions of pounds towards the rescue. The invasion force included 32,000 men, and 44 elephants to carry the provisions and heavy artillery. The provisions included 50,000 tons of beef and pork, and 30,000 gallons of rum. Engineers built landing piers, water treatment plants, a railroad and telegraph line, and many bridges. All of this effort was made to fight one decisive battle, free the prisoners, and go home.

In Acts, we read about another kind of invasion.  Not a military invasion into the heart of a nation to win a battle to free prisoners, but a spiritual invasion into the heart of a man to win a soul for the kingdom of God.  Saul of Tarsus was a zealous and violent man, intent on stamping the life out of the fledgling church of Jesus Christ.  He hated Christians, and he hated the Christ they served.  Yet, grace invaded into the heart of this raging man.  We read of this spectacular spiritual invasion in Acts 9:1-18. It’s an amazing story of undeserved, unearned grace invading the heart of Christ’s enemy to conquer him with the Gospel, and claim him for God’s kingdom.

When grace invades, there’s never any doubt about the outcome.  God accomplishes His plans, and when He begins a good work in the heart of a man or woman, He sees it through to completion.  But our faulty sense of fairness would have us object to this invasion of grace into the heart of Saul.  Saul didn’t deserve it.  He didn’t do anything to merit such mercy.  Saul didn’t pursue Jesus, he persecuted Jesus.  Why on earth would God choose to expend the time and energy to invade this guy’s heart?

Well, that’s the glorious thing about grace.  That’s what makes it so amazing.  Saul didn’t deserve to have his heart invaded by the love of Christ any more than we do.  Yet, God, in His sovereignty chose to penetrate the hard heart of His enemy Saul, and changed him forever.  God was willing to spare no expense and spend the most precious resource on earth, the blood of Jesus, in order to save Saul of Tarsus.

Certainly, it’s hard to believe the British would spend so much money, time, resources, and men to try to save the lives of a few European prisoners in the middle of nowhere.  Yet, the decision to save those people, and the lengths the British went to make it happen, are an amazing testament of the sanctity of life.

It’s also hard to believe God would spend so much to save our lives when we are so undeserving.  Why would God go to such lengths to invade our hearts with His amazing grace?  Saul was undeserving of His grace, and so are we.  Only when we understand and consider how undeserving we really are, will we truly begin to appreciate the lengths God went to, and the glorious riches He spent on our behalf in order to invade our hearts, and save us for His glory.

Steve Doyle, pastor
Harbins Community Baptist Church
Dacula, Georgia

The One Thing That Changes Everything

A couple of weeks ago, on Easter weekend, Apple released its newest technological innovation—the ipad.  After months of media hype, mounting suspense, and millions of dollars of research and development, this little device hit the stores with all the flash and fanfare typical of Steve Jobs. Being a recent convert to the Mac, I have to admit, the technology contained in the ipad blows me away.  At the same time, I wonder why this day, and this weekend was chosen?

No doubt, the people at Apple Computer understand the significance of Easter, and the impact the resurrection of Christ had, and continues to have on mankind.  And, they certainly know how important holidays are to sales and company revenue. But I must ask, is there anything else?

 Steve Jobs was quoted describing the ipad as, “The one that will change everything.” “When people see how immersive the experience is,” Jobs says, “how directly you engage with it … the only word is magical.” (Time Magazine, April 1, 2010)

To a person like me, the technology employed in the ipad is somewhere between magical and miraculous.  It’s hard to believe some of what you see.  On the other hand, to someone who understands how these things are “wired,” the ipads are just another step in the evolution of our high tech world.  While it is a great innovation in technology, and will certainly have a huge impact on the world, will it really “change everything?”

Will it change the hard-hearted, self centered world we live in?  Will it help us solve the problem of world hunger, or bring peaceful resolutions around the globe? Will it help us understand why racial, religious, and ethnic hatred continue to plague the human race?  The answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no,” and not because the ipad and other technology like it, isn’t amazing and awesome.  The truth of the matter is that technology cannot solve the brokenness of man’s heart.  While it may give him a better life, it cannot make him a better person. 

There has only been one person who has offered an answer or solution to all of these issues.  And, in spite of the fact that His coming to this world was met with unmatched brutality and hatred, He still managed to bring radical transformation through His death on a cross.   The Easter celebration focuses on what Jesus did through his death and resurrection to change the condition of man’s heart – a change known as the new birth.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

Surely, Steve Jobs released his little device on Easter weekend for a purpose, probably one related to profit. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. Time will tell if his ipad changes “everything,” or nothing at all. While there is no comparison between Steve Jobs and the God we serve, it is interesting to realize that time has already revealed how the release of Jesus from the tomb truly did change everything.

Steve Jobs, like many other innovators before him, have done some impressive things; but they are nothing compared to the works Jesus has wrought in the heart of each and every believer since His release! The one thing that really does change everything!

The Sound of a Mighty Rushing Wind

Last Sunday evening, hundreds of residents in High Point and Davidson County, North Carolina got a new perspective on the meaning of the words “the sound of a mighty rushing wind.”  A violent F 3 tornado ripped through our area, leaving a path of destruction not seen in this area in years.  Miraculously, there were no fatalities, even though over 600 homes were either destroyed or damaged by the raging twister.

In the days following the storm, television news media reported the stories of those who lived through the horror of that Sunday afternoon.  Many of the survivors used this phrase when trying to describe the noise they heard as the twister ripped through their homes or businesses, “it sounded like a freight train.”

Personally, I’ve heard that sound myself, having lived through two tornadoes in Kentucky.  It is a terrifying sound, unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, because along with the noise of the wind, there is the sound of flying debris hitting the windows and houses, and the sound of wood, metal and stone being ripped away from structures.

As I listened to their stories, I was reminded of the way Luke described the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  “Suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”  (Act 2:2 NLT)  The biblical word used here describes something terrifyingly violent.  I wonder how the disciples felt as they heard that sound, and what went through their minds and hearts.  Certainly, they could not have been prepared for what they experienced that day.

Just as the tornadoes of this week impacted the lives of their victims in a way they will never forget, so the disciples, after their experience with the Holy Spirit on the day Pentecost, would never be the same.  After telling them how they would become His witnesses throughout the world, Jesus commanded them to wait in Jerusalem, “for the promise of the Father,” the coming of God’s Spirit.  With the Holy Spirit’s coming, they would receive power, and be transformed into a people who would impact the world for eternity.

Sometimes, we have been guilty of domesticating the Holy Spirit, and explaining His work in humanistic terms.  And, when we do this, we fail to see and understand the radical and eternal impact He has upon the lives of those who follow Christ.  His coming is anything but tame!  He radically changes our lives altering both our direction and our nature forever.   This is the essence of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus also used the metaphor of the wind to explain the new birth, and the work of the Holy Spirit to an influential religious leader of His day, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from, and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NLT).   Speaking of the new birth, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  (John 3:5 NLT)  Also, Paul the Apostle said it like this, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  (2 Cor. 5:17 NLT)
Radical transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Only He can bring about life-altering changes, and He alone has the power to continue that transforming process throughout our pilgrimage of following Jesus.  Perhaps we would do well to think of Him as the “violent rushing wind,” constantly bringing into our lives all God has for us, and ushering us into the very presence of a holy and awesome God!

The title of a familiar hymn in many of our churches, “Holy Spirit, Breathe on Me,” doesn’t do justice to the awesome work of the Holy Spirit.  We need Him to do more than breathe on us.  We need His radical, life transforming power, and more than ever before, we need to be continually filled with, and controlled by the Holy Spirit.”

Learning Disabilities

Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, explains how companies struggle with learning “disabilities” that threaten their productivity.  As I was reading about the strategies he suggests to help organizations and companies rid themselves of these barriers, I couldn’t help but think about congregations and pastors who also struggle with their own learning disabilities.

As followers of Christ, we are all learners.  Recently, I heard one of our pastors make this statement in his Sunday sermon, “Life is a continual teaching moment when it come to faith.”  How true!  We must constantly learn from the Master Teacher.  Jesus extended this invitation to everyone who would become His follower, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me. . .” (Matthew 11:29)  He also promised the coming of the Holy Spirit to “teach you (us) all things.”  (John 14:26).

Every learner has, to some degree, his or her own “learning disability.”  The first step in overcoming a learning disability is awareness.  My wife and I know from firsthand experience the challenge of overcoming learning disabilities.  We both grew up with our own, and then we passed ours on to our youngest son.  Until we recognized and identified the “disability,” progress was impossible.

When it comes to our learning as followers of Jesus, it is even more necessary to become aware of our “disabilities.”  Jesus addressed one of the most common learning disabilities when He said,   “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say unto you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)  In a real sense of the word, our greatest “learning disability” is our “unlearning curve.”  There is so much from our fallen nature, our self-centered culture, and our misdirected religious environment that must be unlearned.  Forsaking all and following Him is the challenge. 

In other words, our greatest challenge in learning to be a follower of Christ is our unlearning curve!  Paul said, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away, behold all things are new.”  (2 Cor. 5:17)  Turning loose of the past and letting go of the old, is perhaps the most difficult learning disability of all.

What is your learning disability when it comes to learning how to fully follow Christ?  The writer of Hebrews said it like this, “Let us lay aside the weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and run with patience the race that is set before us.”  What is it that keeps us from learning to follow Him?

Finishing Well

Watching the first few events of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I was reminded of how important it is to finish well.  That Saturday, it looked like the Americans were going to be shut out of the 1500 meter short track speed skating race.  Apolo Ohno and J. R. Celski were in fourth and fifth place respectively, when, all of the sudden, on the last turn, two South Korean skaters ran into each other, slid off the track, and ended the race for both of them.  Ohno and Celski medaled because the South Koreans didn’t finish well.

The same day, Canadian Jennifer Heil finished well as she skied an almost perfect run in the freestyle downhill moguls.  There was only one skier left, American Hannah Kearney.  As well as Heil finished, Kearney did even better, pulling off a flawless run, shocking her competitor, and walking away with the gold.  Kearney and Heil both finished well.

The following day, there was an exciting finish to the Nordic Combined Event, an event that’s been around since the very first winter Olympic Games.  The American athletes did great! They finished strong, and one even took the silver medal.  But the Frenchman Jason Chappuis exemplified how to finish a race well as he out-sprinted the other athletes to take the gold in dramatic fashion.  He certainly finished well.

Starting a race well is important, but finishing it well is also critical. The Bible compares the Christian life to a race.  Hebrews 12:1 says, “therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The Apostle Paul uses a race analogy in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” And referring to the fact that he is nearing the end of his own life, he writes to his protégée Timothy saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Perhaps Paul had Stephen in mind when he thought about finishing his own race. Before Paul’s dramatic conversion to Christianity, he was a young, up-and-coming Pharisee named Saul.  Some believe Paul was the one who oversaw, and approved of Stephen’s brutal stoning.  If so, he witnessed the death of the first Christian martyr.  He witnessed a man finish his race by dying in a manner that magnified God. (Acts 7:54-60) Perhaps, Paul wondered if his own death would also magnify God.

It makes us uncomfortable to think about finishing our lives on this earth, but in truth, everyone will come to the end of his or her race at the appointed time.  Will we finish well?  Will we be able to say, as Paul said, we have fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith? Or will we fall by the wayside when the path is rocky and steep?  Will we be like Stephen, keeping our eyes on the prize set before us—eternal life in heaven with Jesus, or will we focus on our own discomfort and pain? Oh, that we might magnify God, and reveal Christ to others in all we do, even in the way we die.

We should also remember Paul’s words to the Philippian church, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21 NASB)

By Steve Doyle

Church Planter/Pastor, Dacula, GA

The Power of Priorities

It must have been exciting to be in New Orleans this past weekend.  Part of me loves the Super Bowl, and all the fanfare that comes with it.  Yes, I watched it, and yes, my team won!  But there is also something about all the hype and mania that leaves me empty, and sick in my soul.

On the morning of the big game, a radio sports commentator said he was surprised to learn you could still find tickets for the big game at the bargain price of $1,500 a seat!  If that is the bargain price, I wondered, what was the “regular” price?  After a quick internet search, I discovered tickets sold for as much as $5,000! Then, I was blown away to learn thirty-second television commercials cost anywhere from 2.5 to 3.01 million dollars!  I suppose companies and organizations, and yes, even the Federal Government, thought it was worth the big bucks to get their messages out to the 93 million people watching the game. Reportedly, CBS took in 6.4 billion dollars in revenue just from the commercial sales.  And, if you’re the winning MVP, you can get over $30,000 for telling the world you’re going to a special theme park in Florida. Amazing!

Please don’t get me wrong, I love sports, and I love the Super Bowl. I played sports in school, and I have my favorite college and professional teams.  But, something doesn’t make sense.  How can we justify this kind of over-the-top excess when 400 million children in the world go to bed hungry every night?

For me, it comes down to a question of priorities, and the power these priorities have in our lives.  If attending the game in person is important, we’ll spend $5,000 for a ticket.  If reaching 93 million people with the message of our company’s product is our priority, then we’ll gladly shell out the money to make it happen.  The Super Bowl is a reminder of the power of priorities.

What would happen if we made something like world hunger a priority?  The fact is, there is enough food in the world to feed every hungry person, and prevent the deaths of the15 million children dying each year from hunger and malnutrition.  Experts tell us we have the food; it’s just not getting to the people who need it the most.  It’s not a problem of resources; it’s a problem of priorities.

Effectively addressing global problems like hunger requires a realignment of our priorities.  It is a matter of having the will to do something, individually and collectively.  It requires a willingness to make sacrifices in lifestyle, and pay the price politically and socially.  It starts by asking, “Is it important?”  “Is it a priority?”  And, “Does it stir us and drive us to do whatever it takes to make a difference?”

Ever so often, and especially during times of crisis such as the earthquake in Haiti, you see glimpses of what a shift in priorities can do.  But these responses are too few and far between.  Too quickly, we return to our selfish ways. Oh, that God would stir great changes in our hearts for the needs of those around us, and around our world!  Oh, that God would change our priorities from a focus on ourselves and our comfort, to a focus on others and their needs!

What are your priorities, and the priorities of your church? What are the needs in your community? How can a shift in priorities help you meet those needs?