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When Persecution Gets Personal

January 20, 2015

A Nigerian church, after last weekends attacks.

Over the past few months our small New England church has watched international crises touch uncomfortably close to home. First was news that our own missionary, Dr. Rick Sacra, had contracted the deadly Ebola virus disease while serving in Liberia. It’s a strange thing to see your friend and missions partner plastered all over every major new station in the western world. Of course we were already praying and concerned, but the Ebola crisis was no longer theoretical or ephemeral; it became personal. We gathered to pray and hung on the news stations as our friend fought for his life.

And the Lord was merciful. Not only has Dr. Sacra recovered, but he arrived back in Liberia last Thursday in order to provide care at ELWA hospital in Monrovia, and help lift the burden in a country whose entire medical system has been brought to its knees. (Click here to listen to Rick and Debbie Sacra tell their story at Westgate Church last November.)

Then news came just days ago about the attacks on Christians in Niger. Niger—where not one, but two of our missionary families have been serving long term. Over the past weekend the BBC reports that 45 churches were burned, resulting in 10 deaths and 170 injuries—many of these in the capital, Niamey, where our friends live.

They shared the following pictures on their Facebook page:

Before (Dec 14, 2014)

Before (Dec 14, 2014)

After (Jan. 17, 2015)

After (Jan. 17, 2015)

We praise God that things appear to be calming down. But we’re scared and hurting for our friends. One of them reflected yesterday:

A day full of grief. Very somber atmosphere in the office with many tears and much prayer. Quiet around town as well with many neighbors wishing to communicate their own sadness for the weekend’s events. Continue to pray for wisdom for local and mission authorities as rumors fly. Continue to uphold those staggered to have lost so much that they would know the comfort and provision of Jesus. We’re praying that something beautiful will come from the flames.

It’s hard to know how to process these things from our relatively comfortable and safe position in the West. My initial emotions are anger and fear. Anger that people would terrorize and kill Christians in Niger in protest to some foolish secularists in France. And fear of what might happen to our friends as a result.

But when I think of these events through the lens of the gospel—the good news that Jesus left the glory (and safety) of heaven to lay his life down for treasonous rebels like us—those emotions are slowly replaced with humility and gratitude. Humility in remembering that but for the grace of God, there is no difference between me and the blind zeal of rioters and terrorists. And gratitude over the privilege of being partnered with such courageous missionaries, men and women who are willing to follow the model of their Savior and leave the comfort and safety of home to give their lives away for the gospel.

I’m also reminded of Hebrews 10:32-39, which speaks honestly about the sorrow and suffering that sometimes comes with our witness, but then calls us to a defiant joy and a persistent hope. Read these lines and reflect on them:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Heb. 10:32-39, ESV).

Please join me in praying for these dear men and women—for the safety, and for their hearts to be filled with joy and hope in our Great High Priest and Victorious King, Jesus Christ, to whom belongs all power and all glory.

And pray that God would indeed bring something beautiful from the flames.

Whose Story Anyway?

January 14, 2015
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unbrokenImagine buying tickets to go see Unbroken, the great survival story of World War II veteran Louie Zamperini. Except when the film begins, you quickly realize that it’s been replaced with somebody’s home videos.

The uproar that would ensue is not hard to imagine. Nobody wants to watch that for two hours, let alone pay money to see it. There’s only one person interested in those videos—the person who stars in them.

But so often the way we apply the gospel to our lives is exactly like this. Read more…

The Gospel for All of Life

December 30, 2014


The-Gospel-for-All-of-Life-Cropped2015 marks Westgate’s fortieth year as a congregation. It’s an exciting milestone as we reflect back on all that God has done since a handful of college students from Park Street Church joined up with a small Bible study meeting in Weston. But it’s also a good occasion for us to look forward as a church, particularly as we seek God to make our vision a reality.

God has called us to be a gospel-centered community living each day on mission for Christ. But what does it really mean for the gospel to be at the center of everything? What difference should that make in our hearts, in how we do church, in our relationships at home, our aspirations at school, our attitude at work, our posture in the public square, or our global perspective?

The gospel is the good news of what God has done to establish his kingdom and deal with our sin through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit. But too often we view the gospel as something small and introductory—an entry point, the elementary things of faith.

The gospel is so much bigger than that. Because the grace of God in Jesus is bigger than that. It literally changes everything. As the apostle Paul points out in his letter to Titus, the same grace that saves us also teaches us to say no to sin and yes to godliness (Tit. 2:11-14; cf. 3:3-8). Or as pastor and author Tim Keller reminds us, “The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A to Z of the Christian life. It is inaccurate to think the gospel is what saves non-Christians, and then Christians mature by trying hard to live according to biblical principles. It is more accurate to say that we are saved by believing the gospel, and then we are transformed in every part of our minds, hearts, and lives by believing the gospel more deeply as life goes on” (Center Church, 48).

We are committed to the centrality of the gospel in everything. We want everything about our lives, relationships, and ministries to flow out of and point back to the good news of Jesus. For this reason, we are devoting our worship services in 2015 to exploring and applying the practical realities of the gospel for everyday life.

So if you’re in the MetroWest area of Boston, join us this year as we consider the gospel in me (Jan-Feb), the gospel in the church (Mar-Apr), the gospel at home (May-Jun), the gospel at school (Jun-Jul), the gospel at work (Aug-Sept), the gospel in the public square (Sept-Nov), and the gospel to the ends of the earth (Nov-Dec). In other words, join us as we explore and apply the gospel for all of life.

The King who Is Enthroned on a Cross

November 24, 2014

crossThis morning I turned to the final folio in Matthew’s Gospel—the last two pages. That’s all that’s left to preach in this series.

It has been a wonderful journey—for me personally, hopefully for our congregation as well. Without a doubt, the predominant theme of Matthew’s Gospel has been the kingship and authority of Jesus Christ. The book opens by announcing his birth as the long-awaited king. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (2:2). Jesus launched his ministry by declaring that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.  He demonstrated his royal authority through his teaching, his healing, and casting out evil spirits. He revealed the hidden nature of the kingdom through his parables. He entered into Jerusalem his final week lauded as a king. Finally, the book closes with Jesus’ own words, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me” (28:18). There is no mistaking the point: Jesus is the King of heaven and earth.

Yet as the book draws to a close, two themes collide that seem otherwise foreign to each other: kingship and cross. We don’t normally see those together. Yet as Matthew’s Gospel concludes, he makes clear that if you don’t understand kingship in light of the cross, then you’ve missed the point of his book. Read more…

How Should We Think About the Ebola Crisis?

October 28, 2014
Ebola, Liberia

Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA

Fear. This is the word that seems to best describe the American perspective right now. From mandatory 21-day quarantines for healthcare workers returning from West Africa to New York or New Jersey, to the U.S. Army’s announcement today of the same policy–fear seems to be taking the day.

And understandably so. With a death rate between 50-90%, it’s understandable to be scared of an epidemic getting out of hand. It’s a good thing to plan and prepare for containment.

But are mandatory quarantines really the best solution?The CDC and healthcare professionals with direct experience dealing with (and surviving from) Ebola seem to think not.

How should we think about the Ebola crisis? And how should we think about it from a Christian perspective? These are some of the questions Dr. Rick Sacra, missionary doctor and Ebola survivor, will address during his talk this Sunday night at Westgate Church in Weston, Mass. It’s a free event, from 6:30-8:00 p.m., November 2. Find more information here.

An Evening with Dr. Rick Sacra

October 23, 2014

sacra 3When Dr. Rick Sacra heard the news of his friends and colleagues, Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol, being diagnosed with Ebola while serving in Liberia, he knew immediately that he had to return to Liberia to help fill the gap. He arrived on August 4th to the country that had been home to him and his family for the better part of two decades, where he began providing care for obstetric patients that previously had nowhere to go due to the strain of the Ebola crisis.

Despite extra precautions, Rick developed symptoms on August 29, and three days later was diagnosed with Ebola. He was flown to Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha for treatment, where by God’s grace and the fine care of the physicians there, he recovered from a disease that claims the life of somewhere between 50% and 90% of patients. Rick is now home with his wife Debbie and their three boys, continuing to regain strength.

Rick and Debbie have been missionaries of Westgate Church for many years. I met them a year ago at our annual missions conference. We gathered as a church in early September to pray for Rick’s health when news of his diagnosis broke. Now on Sunday night, November 2, from 6:30-8:00 pm, we have the joyful privilege of having Rick and Debbie come share with us Rick’s recent experience working in Liberia, and the story of his own battle with and recovery from the deadly disease.

Please join us if you’re in the Boston area. The event is open to the public and free of charge. We will take a voluntary collection to help SIM and ELWA hospital in their ongoing fight against this devastating epidemic.

Westgate Church is located at 100 Winter Street in Weston, MA. For more information, contact the church office.

A Lament for our Persecuted Family in Iraq

August 9, 2014

arabic nA voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matt. 2:18; cf. Jer. 31:15)

Sitting in a comfortable living room while on vacation, it’s hard for me to even begin to process the horror that is happening in Iraq. Christians being exiled, murdered, raped. Christian children being beheaded, cut in half. Fellow members of the family of God. City after city attacked and cleared out, simply because they are known to contain Christians.

It’s hard to process. Almost impossible to know how to help.

Christian Today ran a helpful piece yesterday that I recommend everyone read: “Crisis in Iraq: five things you can ACTUALLY do to help.” The first and most obvious one is prayer. But I would suggest a more specific kind of prayer is also appropriate in this situation: lament. Read more…


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