Pastor Bryan Goes to Washington

I’m just back from a two-day Pastors’ Advocacy Summit in DC sponsored by World Vision. Inspire Justice was designed to help church leaders partner with government and NGO’s to save the lives of millions of women and children worldwide. Presently, over 7.6 million children die each year of preventable causes like pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition. That translates into 30 children dying every two minutes, or a city the size of New York wiped out every year.
We heard from Rich Sterns, President of World Vision and author of The Hole in Our Gospel, Rev. Alexis Salvatierra, pastor and advocacy expert; Dr. Gloria Ekco, HIV/AIDS specialist; Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President Bush, and several White House and Senate staffers.
On the positive side, we learned that great gains have been made in the past decade or so, due in large part to government –funded programs started by President Bush and extended by President Obama. Many of these funds have been effectively administered on the ground by faith-based agencies like World Vision. Compared to twenty years ago, 4 million more children live past their fifth birthday every year, 5 million HIV/AIDS patients are living to raise their children, and hundreds of thousands more women survive childbirth. (Check out >http://www.worldvision.org/content.nsf/learn/globalissues-disease-poverty?Open&lpos=lft_txt_Child-Health-Now )
On the negative side, we learned that many of these lifesaving funds are in danger of being cut in the current budget crisis. Such cuts would mean the loss of millions of lives, and would threaten our national security by increasing instability and unrest in nations vulnerable to extremism.
While congressional leaders are feeling pressure to reduce foreign aid as a cost-cutting measure, the reality is that foreign aid expenditures only amount to one-half of one percent of our total budget. (Not 20+ %, as many Americans believe!) Such cuts will have virtually no effect on resolving our fiscal crisis.
We were challenged to pray for our government leaders, and to advocate for the most vulnerable by calling leaders to fulfill their God-ordained mission to promote good, restrain evil, and protect the vulnerable. In particular, World Vision is urging the White House and Congress to preserve full funding for foreign aid.
I come home with a better understanding of how government works, and how the church can properly influence our nation and leaders to pursue righteousness. I’m proud of our nation for our commitment to compassion and justice beyond our borders, and I’m grateful for a congregation that is committed to biblically-informed, non-partisan engagement in national and global affairs.

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Ice Cream and Wineskins

Ice Cream and Wineskins

Last night we walked to Bedford Farms for ice cream – Karen and me, and our two younger sons, Mark and Daniel. It was like a hundred other walks we’ve taken to BF in the past 11 years – telling stories of the day, sharing neighborhood memories, wondering if we should get Moose Tracks or Mud Pie. But this time was different.

The next morning I would be taking Daniel down to Florida for his freshman year, and two days later Mark would pack his car and drive west to Wheaton to begin life after college. For Karen and me, it would be the end of an era – 28 years with kids at home.

We ordered our usuals, and sat down to eat and people-watch. Before long, cones and conversation were finished. But I didn’t want to leave. I knew once we got up from that bench, it would never feel quite the same again. Walking home, Karen and I grabbed hands, filled with wonder at these boys becoming men before our eyes, and at God’s goodness to us.

Devotions this morning took me to Mark 3, where Jesus reminds us that we can’t put new wine into old wineskins; the ferment will burst the worn out skins. He was preparing the religious folks of his day for a fresh move of God in their midst, but they would have to let go of the familiar to receive it.

I remembered leaning into that passage a dozen years ago, as we left a life we knew for a new ministry at Grace, and a new home in Bedford. How rich these years have been, more than we could have asked or imagined. That’s how it is with God – He’s always doing new things. But you have to let go.

Who knows what this year will bring? Lots of changes and challenges, for sure. Likely some longing for days gone by. But if I know God, one evening next summer we’ll all take a walk to Bedford Farms. We’ll tell stories of the year and enjoy our favorite flavors. I’ll be probably go with the Moose Tracks, but it will taste like new wine.

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A Different Kind of CEO

A DIFFERENT KIND OF CEO
Late last night I was still catching up on the Sunday paper, reading an article in the Business section about Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. The article told of how he came out of retirement a few years ago to rescue his floundering empire. With a few bold and decisive moves – like closing 900 stores – he re-focused his executives and revived sales and share prices. (There were a few gaffes, too, like Pinkberry- inspired Sorbetto!?) From a leadership perspective, it was an interesting read.

Then, this morning, I picked up Encounter with God and read the story of Hezekiah, in 2 Kings 18. Like Schultz, Hezekiah inherited an empire that had lost its way. And like Schultz, Hezekiah got things back on track again. He refocused the priests and Levites, (see 2 Chronicles 29,) and reclaimed land taken by the Philistines. He made a few bold moves of his own, too, like smashing the bronze snake of Moses, which had become an idol.

But the reason for Judah’s turnaround wasn’t Hezekiah’s executive prowess, but his dependence on God. “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel….He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.” 2 Kings 18:5-7 In the pages to come, (yeah, I read ahead,) we’re going to see Hezekiah humble himself before God, seek God’s counsel, and submit to God’s purposes. (There will be gaffes, too, but his heart will remain soft toward God.)

All this to say there’s a place for strong and savvy leadership, and those who lead should always be striving to improve their effectiveness, even learning from those in the marketplace. But spiritual leaders operate from a different power base. Unless hearts are right with God, unless agendas are surrendered to God’s purposes, unless growth comes from God’s Hand, leaders labor in vain.

When you read the story of Starbucks, it’s all about Howard. When you read the story of Hezekiah, it’s all about God. Let’s pray that the latter might be true of all who lead in ministry.

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Stopping By Driveway On Snowy Evening

Blog 01/14/11

Stopping By Driveway on Snowy Evening

I was out shoveling my driveway – for the second time – as dusk fell on Wednesday. I waved to my neighbor doing the same across the street, and she came over to chat for a few minutes. She’s not a regular church-goer, but she’s familiar with my work at Grace and has visited on occasion. Leaning on our shovels, we guesstimated how many inches and imagined the conditions of the slopes up north. Then she asked me if I was going to be speaking about the Tucson tragedy on Sunday. When I explained that I happened not to be speaking this week, she said she’d be curious to hear what I might say .

Right then a snow plow came rumbling toward us, chasing us from the edge of the driveway and bringing our conversation to an abrupt end. Truth be told, I didn’t have a ready answer for her, but I found myself pondering her question overnight, and next morning I sent her a response by email.

Been thinking about our brief conversation in the driveway last night re the Arizona shootings. If I was speaking on it this Sunday, I think I would say it reminds us that something is wrong with the world, and something is wrong with us. As beautiful as this world can be, and as good as people can be, there is this universal vulnerability to evil that is dramatically exposed in moments like this, but in truth is always with us, and tends to manifest itself in much more mundane moments – a hurtful word, a selfish act, an unkind thought.

Something is definitely wrong with the world and with us. The testimony of human history is that, left to ourselves, it’s going to keep going wrong. The good news – the gospel – is that there is Someone who can make us right again, and make the world right – one day, one person at a time. Helping people find and know that Someone is what my life and work is all about.

That may be more than you asked for, but thanks for prompting me to think it through a bit.

Happy skiing,

Bryan

Personal evangelism has never been my strong suit, and I’m typically disappointed with my inability to “steer” a conversation or to come up with a quick and winning word in the moment. But sometimes just being neighborly is enough to open a door, and a conversation at the end of the driveway can lead to something deeper. Happy shoveling.

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A Visit to My Own Church

I got to be a regular church-goer this past Sunday.   The whole family was home for Christmas, and since I was off-duty we decided to go to the 11:00 service. 

First of all, I had forgotten how stressful it is to get a whole family out the door in time for church – especially when you add an infant to the mix!  Hollering up the stairs – throwing breakfast on the table – warming up the car – tapping my toe with the front door open – sound familiar? 

Arriving in a rush  at church, it was great to have the lots and walks all cleared on a snowy Sunday, and to be warmly greeted as someone opened the door for all of us.

The service itself was great – just right for the Sunday after Christmas.  I was so thankful for the thoughtfulness that went into the service planning, on a Sunday when it would have been easy to just throw some things together.

The music was seasonal, but fresh, and led with passion and joy by some of the same people who had given up most of their week for Christmas eve services. A few of the Kidstown staff gave us a glimpse into their weekly ministry to our children, and we were blessed by the creativity of their work as well as by their message – When you see Jesus, you see God – which was also a set-up for the sermon.

Pastor Jim’s message was warm, strong, and insightful.  He helped us “find Christmas” in an unexpected passage of Scripture – Hebrews 1-2 – and I was moved with a new appreciation of God’s love for me in Christ.

Oh, and I almost forgot…I got to dedicate my new grand-daughter, Laney Ann!  It was a blessing for Karen and me to share our joy and gratitude with our church family.  (Allright, allright – if you insist – here are a couple pictures!)

I have new appreciation for the commitment of so many hundreds of households who find a way to get to church every week in spite of all the forces working against you.  I also have renewed admiration for the folks who plan and deliver all of our ministries – never “mailing it in,” but always giving their best for the Lord and His people.

All in all, a good day at church.  I’ll definitely be back next week!

Wilkerson Family

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Messiah in the food court

Have you seen the YouTube video where a choir delivers a “flash mob” performance of the Hallelujah Chorus in the food court at the mall?  Several GC folks have forwarded it to me since our own Messiah Sunday last week.  It’s a stirring illustration of the very truth we were talking about on Sunday.  For a few moments, the kingdom of the mall becomes the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ!  If you’re like me you won’t be able to keep from lifting your hands in the air before the song is over!

And what that choir does for the food court, you and I get to do every day for our neighborhood, our car pool, our office lunchroom, and the school hallways – with our lives and our lips we get to offer people a glimpse of what life is like in the Kingdom of God!

I’m looking forward to another great Sunday in our Advent journey as we hear the Christmas story from an unexpected perspective. 

Remember for early birds, and for those who aren’t bringing guests and want to free up seats, we’ve added an early service at 8:00am with lots of parking and seating!!

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Go to the movies!

Go to the Movies!

How often does your pastor tell you to do that!?  This weekend you have a chance to enjoy some inspirational entertainment AND send a message to Hollywood at the same time.

The third Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, opens this weekend.  Many Narnia fans say it is their favorite book in The Chronicles of Narnia series.  It’s an exciting story with a powerful message of faith and transformation.

As many of you know, Micheal Flaherty, the president of Walden Media and visionary behind the Narnia films, is a member of Grace Chapel.  He has shared with us many times his vision to bring great stories and redemptive messages to the big screen, including the greatest and most redemptive Story of all!

Last spring Micheal gave me a “behind the scenes” look at the film.  I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of the production and the artistry of those making the film.  More importantly, I was struck by the tremendous potential this film has for spiritual impact on our culture.  In our post-modern, post-Christian society, stories have a way of slipping past our cynicism and skepticism to capture our hearts with truth we might never have received head-on.  I promise you Dawn Treader will do that for you and your friends!

And by seeing the film this weekend, we have an opportunity to send a message to Hollywood.  I got an email this week from Jonathan Bock, the president of Grace Hill Media, which is distributing the film.  He said:

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is one of those films that will be closely watched by decision-makers in Hollywood as a measure of Christians as a powerful consumer-base in America.  Therefore, it’s incumbent upon all of us who care about the transformational sea-change that’s currently happening in entertainment to do what we can to make this crucial film over-perform. Opening Weekend is everything!

So, listen to your pastor:  Drop everything, grab some friends and family, and go to the movies!

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