Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Glad Tidings of Grace and Glory (Luke 1:26-38)

The second message in the Advent Series, "We Hear the Christmas Angels". Audio available here.

The text of this sermon has become Chapter Two in my new book, entitled We Hear the Christmas Angels, available online here.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Cricket for Dummies (or for Americans)

Look at the picture on the left. Do you know this man? If you are an American, you probably don't. If you live in any country that was ever part of the British Empire (besides America and perhaps Canada), then you likely recognize his face and the event that is pictured. His name is Virender Sehwag, and in the wee hours of the morning, while you and I were still asleep here in the U.S.A., he made history. Virender Sehwag is a cricketer on the Indian Cricket Team (winners of the 2011 World Cup), and in a match against West Indies on December 8, 2011, he knocked 219 runs off of 149 balls. In the better part of the world, this athletic feat will be long remembered as one of the most amazing sporting spectacles in history. Americans, meanwhile, won't even know it happened, or what it means.

I'm a fan of obscure sports. Correction, I'm a fan of sports [period]. One of the things I love about traveling and meeting people from all over the world is learning about the games people play in other places. When I was in India and Nepal earlier this year, I fell in love with cricket. It's hard being a cricket fan in America. For one thing, it is never on television, so I have to find feeds on the internet (some of which may be, shall we say, broadcast without express written consent). The games are on in the wee hours of the morning or the graveyard shift at night. During the World Cup, I was going on 3 or 4 hours of sleep (and that thing lasted like 3 months!). And there's no one to talk to about it, except for friends who live overseas and happen to be on Twitter or Facebook at those times of day and night. But I believe that cricket is a great game, it is "the gentlemen's game," and that if more Americans understood it, it could be a popular sport in the USA.

Now, the first thing you have to do in order to understand cricket is to stop thinking that it is anything like baseball. People often say, "Oh, cricket, yeah, it's just like baseball." No, it's nothing like baseball except for the fact that there is a ball and a bat, outs and runs. Just pretend that it has nothing in common with baseball and you will catch on faster. The second thing one can do to understand the game is to sit down and watch one with someone who really understands it. I did this in Nepal with some people I had just met from the UK and Australia. They explained it to me as best they could, and though there is still much I don't understand about the game, I learned enough to thoroughly enjoy it, and I can share a few basics about the game.

1. Each team only bats one time. While a team is at bat, this is called that team's "innings." In that case, a cricket match only has two innings. One team bats until ten of their eleven batsmen are out, or the end of their "overs" (which I will explain below), and then the other team bats. The team that bats second is "on the chase," meaning that all they have to do is score one more run than the first batting team to win.

2. An "over" is six balls. Cricket matches will have different numbers of overs, depending on what kind of match it is. In "Twenty-20" Cricket, there are 20 overs, while in ODI (One-Day International) matches, there are 50. In "Test Cricket" there is no limit on the number of overs.

3. There are two batsmen on the field at all times. Only the one who hits the ball scores the runs. A run is scored as the batsman makes it to the opposite wicket. If a batsman hits the ball past the boundary in the air, six runs are awarded. If the ball rolls or bounces past the boundary, four runs are awarded.

4. There are ten (!) ways a batsman can get out. See the Wikipedia article on cricket for a full list and explanation of them. Four are most common: (1) The ball is caught in the air by a fielder; (2) The bowler (think "pitcher") hits the wickets with his pitch; (3) fielders hit the wickets before the runner reaches the line; (4) LBW ("leg-before-wicket"), meaning that a pitch that would have hit the wickets hit the batsman's leg first.

5. Each batsman stays in the game until he is out. He might get out on the first ball, or (like Sehwag's feat) he might face hundreds of balls. It is considered a great accomplishment for a batsman to attain a "century" (100-runs). To attain 200 in a match is a bizarre oddity (hence the hullabaloo about Sehwag's 219).

Now, there are dozens (at least) more rules and intricacies of cricket that I won't get into here, but these will help you get started. Some of it can be figured out while you watch, and some of it, I think just has to be bred in one's DNA to be understood. But, even without figuring out all the finer points, such as the strategies for using powerplays or the different kinds of bowling styles, one can still enjoy the game thoroughly with a grasp of these essentials.

As a reward for enduring this post, here's a special treat. Watch Sehwag's 200th through 208th run from earlier today in this video. Remember that he went on to score 11 more runs after this!:

And, also, I feel obliged to indicate that as you watch this, and see this stadium filled with people rejoicing, that most of those present in that stadium live amongst people groups that are virtually untouched by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Would you pray that the good news of Jesus Christ would reach them and give them cause for true rejoicing!

Always Winter and Never Christmas

I recently came across a copy of a book entitled The World's Christmas which features stories about Christmas from all over the world. One story in the book, "Gabjir's First Present," takes place in Nepal. This book was written in 1964, a very short time after Christian missionaries were granted access to Nepal in the 1950's. It begins with these words:

"High up in the heart of Nepal--a land where there is no Christmas...."

As I read those words, I was reminded of another book, and another beautiful, snow-covered land that had no Christmas. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis paints an unforgettable literary landscape of a snow-covered country under the reign of a terrible witch. "It is she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas," Mr. Tumnus tells young Lucy. The very thought of such a condition makes Lucy exclaim, "How awful!" But later, the Pevensie children are told by Mr. Beaver, "They say Aslan is on the move--perhaps already landed." Lewis writes, "At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside." When Lucy heard about Aslan being on the move, she "got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays."

Of Aslan, the Narnians had said,

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, 
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, 
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, 
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

In a brief matter of time, the children meet Father Christmas (or, Santa Claus). He announces, "I've come at last .... She kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch's magic is weakening." And soon the long winter begins to break, and Aslan comes! And when he comes, he conquers the Witch through death and resurrection!

I love that story. I believe that in the whole universe there is only one great story -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Every other story that we think is great, or even good, is only so because in some way it strikes a familiar chord in our hearts with that one story. The Narnia tales do that. Aslan is very clearly Jesus!

As I think about Aslan coming to bring Christmas to Narnia after a seemingly endless winter, I go back to that statement about Nepal. "High up in the heart of Nepal--a land where there is no Christmas...." Oh, it is plenty cold, and there is plenty of snow, but no Christmas. A friend of mine lives there. He told me recently, "They actually celebrate Christmas here. OK, well they kind of celebrate Christmas here." Some people exchange presents and decorate, but very few understand the truth about Jesus at the heart of Christmas. In fact, my friend said that in a recent conversation about Christmas, he had to explain to others that Santa Claus was not a biblical figure, and that Christmas was really about Jesus, not Santa. Does that make you feel like Lucy felt when she heard it was always winter and never Christmas? "How awful!"

But, here's the thing. I have it on good authority that Aslan is on the move! King Jesus is advancing His Kingdom far and wide, and will continue to do so until it is consummated at the end of all things. We know this: every tribe, tongue and nation will be represented around His eternal throne. Winter will break and Christmas will come to the unreached peoples of Nepal. Even now, Aslan shakes his mane and bears his teeth. Christ is transforming lives in still small, but ever growing numbers. They understand the truth of Jesus, and for them the Christmasless Winter has come to an end. The holidays are beginning. Multitudes are still snow-bound without hope and without God in the world. Like the stony sculptures surrounding the Witch's palace in Narnia, these who are dead in their trespasses and sins are waiting for Aslan to breathe life into them through His Gospel and His Spirit.

Will you pray for the glorious light of Christ to dawn upon the unreached peoples of Nepal? Will you pray for winter to break, and Christmas to come to Nepal as it did to Narnia? Will you pray for the spiritual strongholds to be broken even as the Witch's power was crushed by the resurrected glory of Aslan?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Lottie Moon Missions Challenge

On December 4, we were so blessed to have a dear missionary friend present with us in the Worship Service to bring our annual Lottie Moon Missions Challenge. In this message, we hear some amazing testimonies of the work God is doing through Southern Baptists around the world, and the great need that still exists. Hear this message here.