Saturday, February 28, 2009

Need A Reason To Endure Persecution?

Countless souls are coming to Christ in Africa. Accoriding to Professor Phillip Jenkins, there are now more than 360 million believers in Africa today, at least in name. This is compared to 10 million in 1900. Remarkably, this growth is in spite of persecution that would horrify most of us in the US if the mainstream media so dared to report it. Malawi is a shining example of how the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the church. In 1859, David Livingstone became the first Christian ever to set foot in this country, and the Gospel began to go forth. However, in 1870, Islamists also entered the region, kidnapping Malawians and selling them into slavery. The oppression that ensued was devastating, as people were forever torn from their families and loved ones (for more on the embarrassing legacy of Arab-Islam in this region of the world, read The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa by, John Alembillah Azumah).

Yet, in spite of the ongoing oppression that followed, Christians now make up over 80 % of the population in Malawi. This is without any government church ever being established. If anyone questions this work of God they would do well to read the following words, which were written by a British journalist, who also happens to be an avowed Atheist, “Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” These are the words of Matthew Parris, taken from an article he recently wrote in the UK Times (
Considering the societal transformation that Christianity is bringing about in Malawi, he went on to say, "Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset." It is remarkable that Africa is now bringing the Gospel to us in the godless West; if only through statements like this. To understand why an Atheist such as Parris would praise the very philosophy he claims to reject, we need to understand where he is coming from. Parris was born in Malawi and grew up being well aware of the social ills that have crippled this nation. Then, he returns after many years spent in the UK to find that many of these ills are being cured, not through Western wealth; but instead, through the good news of Jesus Christ.

To many of us in the West, Christianity does not seem like a pragmatic, practical idea in the short-term because people view it as encouraging delayed gratification for the long-term. However, in the long-term, it becomes known to be the only idea that works. Think about it for a moment; if there is no afterlife, and the short-term is all there is, eventually the crushing drive for instant, short-term gratification will drive us to spend any capital left to us by our forebears. But it won't stop there! It will also drive us to recklessly spend the inheritance of our children, and children's children. We see this as birthrates continue to decline in the West; any desire to save for future generations also declines. Once our resources are gone and the bankruptcy of our self-centered vision is exposed, God's Word is proven true, especially when it teaches "the borrower is servant to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7).

At the end of the day, a God-centered reality will become seen as what works. Those who have languished under the devastating effects of AIDS in Africa can teach us a lot about the emptiness of a culture bent on self-gratification to the detriment of the up and coming generation. The West, unfortunately, in its self-intoxicated stupor has not yet awakened to this reality. King David, however, understood the long-term success of the Judeo-Christian ethic when he sang: "Put not your trust in princes, Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in Jehovah his God: Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that in them is; Who keepeth truth for ever; Who executeth justice for the oppressed; Who giveth food to the hungry. Jehovah looseth the prisoners" (Psalm 146:3-6). Parris' humble words are an example of how the shining witness of Christians in Africa is now seen by many abroad. It is an example of how the Gospel not only presents a God who executes justice for oppressed individuals, but who also brings justice to entire tribes, tongues and nations (Revelation 5:9).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Renewing the Mind in 2009

It is hard to believe it is already 2009 in spite of the fact that I have felt the same surprise at the beginning of each New Year for the past decade. I'll catch on eventually. Nevertheless, as I thought about setting goals for the New Year I had to reflect on how influenced I have sometimes become by the world’s bankrupt way of thinking without even realizing it. This influence rears its ugly head in the most subtle ways through television, political talk shows (yes, even the conservative ones!) the media, etc. It is important to know that as Aristotle, said, "Man's problem is that of a fish in water." We spend our entire lives enveloped by the world just as a fish is enveloped by water. As a result we inevitably become versed in the world's way of thinking without realizing it. Swimming down-stream with the rest of the world is a problem because we are commanded in Scripture to "love not the world" (I John 2:15).

After confessing this sin of worldliness I saw in my own heart, God challenged me to get serious in not being conformed to the world’s way of thinking, but to instead be transformed by Christ’s way of thinking (This is a concept taught particularly in Romans 12:2, Philippians 2:5). This is an easy New Year’s resolution to make because it isn’t really an option; it is a command clearly laid out in Scripture. For this reason it is a goal every one of us as Christians should have. As a pastor, renewing the mind and putting on Christ's mind is a goal I must do everything in my power to help those in my congregation grow in even as I grow alongside them.

You may be asking: "how do you go about renewing your mind by putting on the mind of Christ? " That is a hard question to answer with just a few sentences, but here are a some thoughts to start with: first, the only way to see the life transforming work of a renewed mind is to push away from the buffet table of the world and feast on God instead (Colossians 3:1-6). Second, the only way you can know you’re even hungry for God is when your hungry for His Word (I Peter 2:1-3). Finally, you will never grow in your hunger for God’s Word unless you are radical about setting aside the time necessary to plant your face in it.

To help Christians at True North grow in this area we are setting aside Wednesday nights to renew the mind in 2009. Each week we will be learning just how effective the Bible is in dealing with the issues our world throws at us. We want to know how Christ would respond to the things we all face living in the Twenty-first century. We will cover everything from: how to pray biblically, to: how to respond to the threat of Islam with the mind of Christ. Check out the calendar below to look at what we will be learning on a month to month basis. If you're in the Jacksonville area and would like to attend, you will find more information at:

January – February

Introducing God
Can you describe God to someone correctly, or would your description be something you just pulled out of your imagination? What things does God love? What does He hate? Does He look like you and me? We will let the Bible answer some of these important questions, but will start by laying a foundation for understanding God’s nature: What does it mean to say that God is a Spirit (John 4:24); that He is Triune (John 1:1-18, I Peter 1:2); that He Is Holy (Isaiah 57:15)?


The Crescent In Light of the Cross:
Is Islam a religion of peace as our President and the media have been telling us over and over? Or, are they telling us lies? How should we as Christians confront this religion with the love of Christ? We will do the work of an Apologist and answer these questions from the Quran, History, and the Bible. Don't miss out on this informative time.

April – May

Teach Us How To Pray!
Have you ever struggled with not feeling confident you even knew how to pray, much less
what to pray? You’ll be comforted to know that Jesus not only commanded us to pray; He
taught us how to pray. This will be a great study on prayer because we will learn from
Matthew 6 how we are expected to pray. We will also learn lessons from some of the
greatest prayer warriors who ever lived, particularly Moses, David, Daniel and the early
church in Acts.


Playing God: The Brave New World of Bioethics:
Our culture is now committed to the belief that there is no universal standard for
right & wrong. The result is that respect for human life, which was assumed a
generation ago is now quickly fading. National leaders scowl at the destruction of
trees but promise more tax-dollars to fund the destruction of unborn babies. We
will learn from Scripture why all human life is sacred in light of how devalued human
life has become through practices such as abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia.

July – August

What is Revival?
We live in a spiritually dry land where the church is in desperate need of revival.
However, many churches have the strange notion that you can somehow schedule revival,
when, ironically, they seem to have trouble defining it. We will open God’s Word and
learn why you cannot simply pencil God into your daily planner. We will also find out
what revival is, how its occurrence has changed the course of history, and why we should
pray fervently for it to take place in our lifetimes.


Does God Believe In Atheists?
What are the arguments against God? Can they be countered biblically? What are
the most biblically sound arguments for God? How can we learn to discern fact from
fiction? All of these are important questions to deal with as Christians living in a land
where every realm of society is influenced by the Church of Darwin.

October – November

Setting Sail in Scripture (Acts 20:26-32)
Is the Bible sufficient? Can it be trusted to handle the everyday problems life throws at
us? Or, should we look to the world’s wisdom instead when it comes to real-world
stuff? We will unfurl the sails and look at several passages of Scripture to prove it is
sufficient for all of life. We’ll also look at what the Bible says about the rewards for
obedience as well as the temporal consequences for disobedience.

December (first two weeks)

Go Tell It On the Mountain!
What does recorded history tell us about the birth of Christ and does it fit with the
biblical account? Was the star that the Magi followed really just a star? How has
Christmas been celebrated by the most devout Christians throughout the centuries?
How should we celebrate Christmas in ways that will invite others to celebrate with us?