Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Less than a week before Christmas...that sentence fills some of us (especially those under the age of 12) with sleep-depriving anticipation and joy, others of us with terror (we have so many presents to buy!) and still others with despair. This is the time of year that's hardest for those suffering from depression, those who are lonely, or who for whatever reason just feel forgotten and passed-over by the world. Isaiah 49:14-16 is a wonderful promise for such people, and that will be my text this Sunday (Dec. 23) in a message called "Unforgettable." I'll also speak briefly at our two Christmas Eve services, along with the wonderful Christmas music we'll share at every service. So remember to invite someone (if you need motivation, read the post below entitled "An Eye-Popping Statistic"). And remember to pray for people who are having a tough time this year...look for opportunities to be their source of joy.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Choose Your Battles

Joe McKeever is Director of Missions of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. I read his blog pretty regularly...He is one of a few ministers and authors who I do not know personally, but whose ministries feed me spiritually. Others include John Ortberg, Philip Yancey, Chuck Swindoll and Tony Evans; these are my "pastors."

Anyway, Joe's blog this week includes a note about the "Christmas Wars." I'll just furnish you the link here, since he says it far better than I could. Click on that link and take a moment to read the article. Even if you don't agree with Joe (it's okay if you don't) I think you'll enjoy his writing and be better off for having read it. I'd love to hear some feedback from you...especially on questions such as:

--Why is it seemingly so easy to get Christians angry over some trivial matter, but difficult to mobilize us for evangelism, ministry to the poor, mission work or prayer?

--Why are we so gullible that we will forward sensational emails without checking the truthfulness thereof? (Especially with urban legend websites like easily available)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

God of the Runt

This Advent season, we here at Westbury are exploring the question, "How Far Is It To Bethlehem?" The focus is on making Christ incarnate in our hearts...and in the world around us.

This Sunday, my message will be "God of the Runt," from Micah 5:2-5. We have a romanticized notion of Bethlehem today, influenced more by Christmas cards and Phillips Brooks' famous carol ("O Little Town of Bethlehem") than by reality. The actual village of Bethlehem was a very unlikely place for a Messiah to be most of the other circumstances of Jesus' birth. This fact brings up certain questions:

Why would God choose an insignificant spot on the map for such a historic event?

For that matter, why does every character in Scripture seem to have some unsavory or undesirable element in his/her past?

Is there anything we can do to disqualify ourselves from being useful to God?

How should this change the way I look at other people? Or myself?

Under Construction

This is an article that will appear in the upcoming issue of the Westbury Word, our church newsletter. But here it is--a month early--for any who want to read and/or comment:

I saw a sign on a strip of highway once that I would like to have copied on my gravestone. It said, "End of construction. Thank you for your patience."

—Ruth Bell Graham, poet, writer, and wife of evangelist Billy Graham (1920–2007), from her book, A Hearing Heart.

I have no idea whether or not Ruth has that etched on her tombstone, but I like the sentiment very much. Whether we acknowledge the fact at all, each one of us is under construction. The Holy Spirit of God is the architect and general contractor. But most of the work is supposed to be done by you and me. Some of us refuse to work at all, reasoning, “I’m good enough as is. Not perfect, but a whole lot better than most people I know.” But happy are those who commit their lives to joining God in this great renovation of the heart…and happy is everyone who knows them (happier still are those who get to live with them!).

Our church is getting ready to begin a great renovation of our worship space. This has been planned for years, supported by generous gifts, and masterminded by intelligent, committed church members (since I just got here, I don’t include myself in that group). No doubt about it, it’s an exciting time. But this building is just that: a building. Your life is eternal in Christ Jesus. I urge you to begin 2008 with a commitment to cooperate with God’s building project in your life. Here’s my practical suggestion: Take a morning, a day, or longer if necessary, to prayerfully meditate over the following three questions:

1. What character flaws would God most like me to overcome this year?

2. What aspects of Jesus’ character am I lacking the most?

3. What people does God want me to invest my life into in the coming year?

And then this final question: What am I going to do about it?

Monday, December 3, 2007

An eye-popping statistic

Here's an amazing statistic from Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway:

• 82 percent—the number of un-churched people who are receptive to attending church if invited and escorted by a friend.

• 21 percent—the number of church-going Christians who invited someone to church in 2006.

Frankly, I find this frustrating. We spend all this time and energy trying to figure out why most churches aren't growing, then we read a statistic like this: Only two out of ten churchgoers even invited one person to attend worship with them last year...and more than eight out of ten unchurched people might have given church a chance, heard the Gospel presented, if someone had only invited them! There are other great findings in the original article, which you can read here.

On the other hand, it's encouraging to know that perhaps the most effective thing we can do to help people come to Christ is also one of the easiest: Just invite them to church!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Worth Waiting For

This Sunday is the first week of Advent. In the service, we'll be lighting the hope candle. Kyle and I decided to do something a little different with this service. We'll be observing the Lord's Supper, focusing on how Jesus was, is and will be the fulfillment of our highest and best hopes. Our Lord's Supper observance will be a little different, too, but you'll have to be there to see what I mean. For now, just consider these questions:

Romans 5:5 says "Hope does not disappoint." That sure isn't the experience most of us have with hope. What do you think that verse means? Do you think God's concept of hope is different from ours? If so, how?

What are the biggest disappointments you have experienced in life?

What can Jesus offer to those who are experiencing profound disappointment? What would you say to someone going through that experience right now?

Feel free to interact with these questions on the blog now, if you wish. Or come back and discuss them after you hear the message. Either way, please pray for the service this Sunday, and let's see what God does!

Here's a link to our sermon audio page, in case you'd like to listen to or read the message.

Baylor Stole My Coach

Well, it's official. The coach of my favorite football team, Art Briles, is leaving UH to become Baylor's coach. Reportedly, he will sign a contract promising him $1.8 million for seven years. I know it would be hard to turn that kind of money down. But I have to tell you, this hurts. Briles has just led my Cougars to their fourth bowl game in five years. It seemed like he was right on the verge of making Houston a really strong program. Plus, I've met him on several occasions, and he is a genuinely great guy. I'm more attached to him than I've ever been to a coach of any sport, ever. And now he's gone...just like that.

A couple of ironic things about this, for me personally:

1. I almost went to Baylor myself. My senior year of High School, I applied to two colleges: Baylor and UH. I prayed diligently that God would lead me to the right decision--it was really the first such big decision I had ever made on my own. I figured--as a good Baptist--God wanted me to go to Waco. To my surprise, the more I prayed about it, the more UH felt like the right place. Fifteen years later, it clearly was the right decision for me...for one thing, I met Carrie there.

2. Just this past Sunday, I used my support of UH sports as an illustration in my sermon "Spiritual Vision" (Here's the link for sermon audio or text: I made the point that it was silly to take football so seriously when there are much more important things in life. My wife, my children, my church, my health, my friends and my relationship with God are all such blessings, and they aren't impacted one bit by whether or not my favorite team wins a game. So win or lose, I shouldn't get all worked up either way...if I do, maybe I need to find a new hobby. I said all that...and then three days later, this happens.

So now I get to practice what I just got through preaching. Funny how that works, huh?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Spiritual Vision

One thing I plan to do with this blog is to give you a preview of upcoming sermons, along with a forum for you to interact with me about the messages. So here goes...

The message this Sunday (Nov. 25) is entitled "Spiritual Vision" based on Daniel 10:1-14. It is the last of our Daniel series. We've looked at the uncommon character of Daniel, including his purity, boldness, faith, integrity and prayer. Daniel was a prophet, which meant that he had a unique ability to see the world as God saw it, and a call to communicate God's agenda to the world. Apparently this prophetic gift, this spiritual vision, grew stronger later in life, as the second half of the book of Daniel mainly consists of a series of visions Daniel was given. These visions foretell many of the most important events in God's plan to redeem us, including some stuff that hasn't happened yet.

Most of us do not have the gifts or the calling to be prophets, but I believe God wants all of us to develop the ability to see the world as He does. Think about these questions in preparation for Sunday: How would you and I live differently if we could see everything the way God does? How would it change the way we spend our time? Our money? How would it affect the way we relate to people? How would it change the way we think about world events?

Feel free to add any questions or comments to this post, especially after the message on Sunday. Here's a link to our sermon audio page, in case you'd like to listen to or read the message.

Pasadena's dubious news

Just for the record, I don't know Joe Horn, but we're neighbors. I live in Village Grove subdivision in Pasadena (until the house sells, which I pray will be soon!), Horn lives in Village Grove East, a newer section just a mile or two away. In case you don't recognize the name Joe Horn (and no, I am not referring to the Atlanta Falcons reciever), he's the 61 year old man who gunned down two men who were robbing his next door neighbor's home in broad daylight last week. Here's a link to the story on the Chronicle's website:
Mr. Horn is white. The two deceased burglars were black. Pasadena has a not-too-distant past of well-documented racism (people my age who grew up here can remember when the Klan's headquarters were on Southmore St.). In addition, the 911 call was released (it can be heard on the link above) and Mr. Horn was urged not to confront these men. He is heard to say, "I'm not going to let them get away" and "I'm gonna shoot them." This of course leads us to believe he was motivated less by fear of his own life and more by a desire to punish criminals on his own.

Reaction has been predictable. Letters to the editor at the Chronicle ( see here: and also here: were mostly supportive of Horn. One guy wrote, "Let's fire the police and hire Joe Horn!" Then yesterday, Quanell X led a protest in Village Grove East. Quanell said if Horn were black and the two suspects white, Horn would be in jail today.

How do I feel about all this? Well, it is disconcerting to know that in our nice middle-class neighborhood, someone would brazenly break into a house in broad daylight. I leave my wife and two kids every day for most of the daylight hours. Frankly, I am glad that these two men, at least, will never break into my house. But on the other hand, I don't like the idea that ordinary citizens can use deadly force when they have no reason to believe their own lives are in danger. Society simply can't abide that, unless we want this to turn into Dodge City in the 1800s. I don't know what should happen to Mr. Horn, but in my opinion, he needs to be charged with something.

Mostly, though, I wonder why everything has to devolve into a political firestorm. Some are already lauding Mr. Horn as a folk hero. Quanell X has predictably turned this into a racial issue. Why can't it just be about the simple question: "How much lethal force is a person allowed to use?" Why does every event in our society have to be an occasion for soundbites and talk-radio vitriol?

So far, Wayne Dolcefino hasn't knocked on my door yet looking for a man-on-the-street reaction story, but I'll let you all know if he does.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

It Begins...

So I have started blogging. Why? Well, hopefully this way wbc members will be able to communicate with their pastor more often and more effectively. And people who are checking out wbc will be able to find out what they want/need to know. And people who are trying to check out this Jesus thing will have someone on the net they can chat with. We'll see how it goes.