Sunday, August 24, 2008

Liberian Connection

At Whipple Avenue Baptist Church we are enjoying the ministry of Pastor Jesse W. Quapourlee from Monrovia, Liberia.

Liberia has suffered many difficult things in recent history. A fourteen year civil war claimed the lives of about 250,000 people out of a total population of less than four million. That war only ended in 2003. The country suffers from an overall lack of infrastructure and industry. Unemployment is 85%. Most Liberians live on less than $2.00 (US) a day. The war left many orphans and widows who have very limited means.

Brother Jesse is the founding pastor the New Testament Baptist Church near Monrovia. This evangelistic church has grown from 10 members in 2003 to 70 members today with a weekly attendance of about 200. NTBC is doing what it can to help with the education of orphans and the relief of widows and orphans. They have also begun church plants in two other communities - Bong Mines 200 miles away and District No. 7 about 75 miles away.

Brother Jesse's preaching is very refreshing to me. He has a simple expository approach to preaching that is clear and compelling. He demonstrates a thorough knowledge the Bible, with large portions committed to memory. Part of this is due to growing up in the home of a pastor and hearing these things from his childhood. But I admire the way he has equipped himself with education and study over a period of time when he was often on the run or in hiding because of the war that raged around him.

Listening to him preach is a delight. English is taught in Liberian schools, but it is not a native dialect. Consequently Jesse's choice of words is sometimes unexpected. This is a blessing because it is clear that he is not just repeating cliches - but expressing things that he has thought about and brought into English for us.

Jesse preaches with authority. He knows what the Bible says and he proclaims it boldly. He uses situations that he has faced in Liberia to illustrate his points and makes it very clear that the sins and struggles of our country are the same as in Liberia. But beyond that, the salvation and spiritual work of the Holy Spirit are the same there as here. The same Holy Spirit uses the same word of God to produce the same fruit in lives all around the world and in very different cultures.

It is easy for me as an American to think paternalistically about the Liberian Christians. In my nationalism I tend to think that we are more sophisticated, educated, cultured, and technologically advanced than anybody - let alone a country that has had the problems Liberia has faced.

Jesse shows that to be baloney!

We are brothers and sisters in Christ. In many ways we have it easy compared to the difficulties they have faced and are facing, BUT they are every bit as spiritual, complex, inventive, educated, equipped, and devoted as we are! In many ways they have the spiritual advantage over us.

Jesse is about 36 years old and has a small build. When he came out of the gate area at the airport I had to look twice because he could be mistaken for a young teen at first glance. But Jesse W. Quapourlee is really a hero of the faith. He is facing tremendous difficulties and doing amazing things in the service of our Lord. He is putting himself on the line everyday for the cause of Christ. He deserves our respect, our prayers and our considered support in his work!

Come hear him preach Monday through Wednesday (8/25-8/27) at 6:30 PM at Whipple Avenue Baptist Church. Call 330-477-5069 for more information.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Be Real!

Genuine is good. Fake is bad. Hypocrisy is nauseating.

Unfortunately, religious venues can harbor hypocrites. You know what I mean. In church people act one way and confess a religious world view that they take off on their way out. The religious values they sang about inside are not apparent in their personal and business life.

Jesus said of such people, "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me." (Matthew 15:7-8)

Jesus also said:
  • They make a big show of their charitable deeds to get glory from men. (Matt. 6:2)
  • They love to stand and pray loudly in public places to be seen by men. (Matt. 6:5)
  • They make a big show out of their self-denial to get praise from men. (Matt. 6:16)
  • They cheat poor widows but turn around and make pretentious long prayers (Matt. 23:14)
  • They are picky about small things, but neglect justice, mercy and faith. (Matt. 23:23)
  • They obsess about religious traditions, but are full of self-indulgence. (Matt. 23:25)
Pretense, posturing and pride. What good can come from ponderously propounding platitudes?

We are not called to put on a show. Our pompous proclamation of our own righteousness and spiritual sensitivity doesn't make it so. It only stokes our pride. God is not deceived.

Religious ritual, formalism, legalism, traditionalism and the praise of men will not make you right with God. These things are all external, but they don't change the bottom line - people are spiritually dead and corrupt apart from God's grace. As Jesus said to the hypocrites, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27)

The only help for it is the saving work of Christ that comes through grace.
(Ephesians 2:8-9) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

(2Corinthians 5:17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

(James 4:6) But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”
People are made right with God when they finally admit their own sinfulness and inability to please God, and turn their trust to the saving work of Christ. Then in genuine humility they acknowledge that every good thing that shows up in their life comes from God.
(Galatians 2:20) "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
Do we really want people to "Be Real?" What if real means selfish, proud, greedy, and depraved?

We want people to be right with God through faith in Jesus Christ and to put off their pretense in humility and honesty. Then they will have a heart for the weighty matters of the law... justice, mercy and faith.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pens That Won't Write

I pick up a pen to jot down a note.
Some pens write and some pens don't.

What now? My pen is skipping.

I write over the line of words again - and again. I press harder. I scribble in the corner of the page. I shake the pen.

I try again.

It makes me wonder how the Lord feels when He tries to use me in His service. Sometimes I serve well to spell out God's glory. Sometimes I dry up and God's line is blurred by my inconsistent life.

Maybe that is when I feel pressured because the Lord has to press harder on me to get His work done. Maybe that is when I find myself retracing my steps to get it right - or even scribbling in a corner until I get done skipping.

I like a fresh new pen and a clean sheet of paper!

I want to be that fresh new pen in God's hand on the clean page of each new day!

No skipping. No blobs or blots. I'll be ready and responsive to His every impulse. I'll put down exactly what He intends. I won't fade out early. I want every word and action to follow my Master's will.
(Psalms 19:14) "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Church In A Consumer Culture

Do I need to mention that we live in a consumer culture?
  • The customer is always right.
  • Have it your way.
  • Customized.
  • Personalized.
  • Flexible.
  • User Friendly.
  • Pampered...
  • Service Economy
Our society has an entitlement mentality.
  • The most important thing is that I get what I want.
  • If you have it, you should give it to me.
  • If you don't have it, you should get it for me.
  • If you won't get it for me, I have no use for you.
Armies of entrepreneurs clamor for a niche market - some obscure itch that they can scratch better than anyone else. The marketplace is a riot of colors, flavors, sounds, and styles. It is almost impossible to order a beverage, much less a whole meal, because of the hundreds of possible permutations for every item... Large, Medium or Small? Caffeine or Caffeine Free? Sugar or Sugar Substitute? Splenda, NutriSweet or SweetNLow? Cream or No Cream? Hot or Iced? Flavored? What Flavor? Vanilla, Chocolate, Red Raspberry, Black Raspberry, Almond, Walnut, etc., ad infinitum.

Since we are naturally selfish, self-centered, whiners - we like it when people cater to our every whim. But what about at church?

The church is made up of people, but it belongs to Jesus Christ. When we get to the Church of Jesus Christ we need to get over our rabid pursuit of our pleasure. In fact, followers of Jesus are not supposed to be caught up in the rabid pursuit of their own pleasure at all - not at home or the marketplace - and not the church. We are servants - slaves - of Jesus Christ. In His organization, His pleasure is paramount.
(Galatians 2:20) "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
It gives me a perfect fit that people hop from church to church seeking a perfect fit.

These are not servants of Christ seeking a place to honor Him by using their talents in His service. They are consumers - seeking a "bang for their buck." They have particular tastes in music, preaching, scheduling, programming, etc. In many cases their preference is evidently a God themed entertainment, rather than God honoring, life transforming, proclamation of the inspired Word of God.
(Romans 12:2-6) "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,
5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them:"
People should be asking important questions about their churches.
  • Is the word of God central?
  • Is the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed?
  • Are sinners called to repentance?
  • Are believers called to transformation and holiness?
  • Is biblical teaching a high priority?
  • Can I serve here?
In the church CHRIST is to be preeminent - not whiny people.
(Colossians 1:18) "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence."
Is there something that needs to be cleaned, repaired, changed at your church? Do you think there should be a new program or service provided? What's stopping you? Step up to the ministry God has called you to do!

The self absorbed consumer culture in much of Christianity is not just a shame. It is a sin!
(James 4:1-4) "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?
2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
Should the church cater to this consumer culture in order to fill their buildings with people who want to be petted? God forbid!
(2Timothy 4:2-5) "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;
4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."