Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jesus and the Skeptic

I met Eric the day I moved into Taub Hall at UH in September of 1988. Eric was very different from the guys I had hung out with in my high school years. He had an earring--very unusual for a male in those days. He was a huge movie buff who had an encyclopedic knowledge of horror films. And he was an absolute religious skeptic. Eric and I became friends and occasional debaters on matters of faith. He was far above me intellectually, so I never did very well in those debates. He posed questions about God, the Bible and Christian theology that I had never even considered. Ultimately, that was good for my own walk with Christ, because it pushed me to study, meditate and examine why I believed as I did. I haven't seen or heard from Eric in over ten years now. For a few years after we both graduated, he would email us reviews of the latest movies he had seen, and they were more entertaining and well-written than the work of most published film critics. Eventually the reviews stopped without explanation. My emails were no longer answered. I still pray for Eric, and hold out hope he'll overcome his intellectual objections and accept Christ...and that we'll renew our friendship in Heaven someday.

We will encounter people who are skeptical about Christ and/or about our faith in Him. These include atheists or agnostics like Eric, as well as adherents of other religions, people who have been burned by churches in the past, or people too caught up in the pursuit of success or power to give Jesus the time of day. We have historically done a lousy job of reaching out to people like these. This Sunday--Super Bowl Sunday--we'll look at how Jesus responded to a skeptic named Simon the Pharisee. It won't necessarily go the way you expect it to...but it should give us some good rules of thumb for reaching out to our skeptical friends.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

...and so it begins...

I thought our first Sunday in the gym was fantastic! I heard many enthusiastic reports from people who were nervous about worshipping outside of our beautiful worship building, but who thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Kyle put together a great, upbeat worship service, the band and choir did their usual excellent job, and our sound team wired that place perfectly. That, and the volunteers who helped set up the room made it a great day.

Just by way of update: I said this from the pulpit a few weeks ago, but it bears repeating: We will not be able to put in video screens at this point. After consulting with companies that install such systems, we found that our room is simply not shaped the right way for video capabilities. If the room wasn't so long...or if we didn't care about obscuring the stained glass window...or if we didn't have a choir, we could probably go through with it. But all of those things ARE true, and I am glad for them! So here's the way I look at it: Someday technology will catch up with us, and we'll be able to install a system that gives us video capability without compromising the features of our worship space that are already such assets.

Otherwise, this process seems to be off to a great start. Keep this entire thing in your prayers, including the contractors who will be working on our building and the renovation committee overseeing the work. And keep Easter in your prayers as well...we plan to celebrate the best Sunday of the year at Johnston Middle School, in their auditorium. This gives us more room for what should be a great crowd, PLUS it gives us a chance to take Easter to our community. Pray that some folks who wouldn't feel comfortable entering a church building would choose to come to Johnston on March 23. Oh, and make sure you invite some, too. Keep your eye out for advertisements in local community publications.

I can't wait to see and worship in our renovated building, but until that time, I think this will be a wonderful period in WBC's life.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jesus and the Outcast

There are some people in this world who just don't seem to fit. They lack the social skills to endear themselves to any particular group, so they just drift through life, alternately irritating and being ignored by everyone with whom they come in contact. Yet the doctrine of grace tells me that God not only has a place for these people, He actually has a favored place for them...and how we respond to them is going to be a matter for which we will someday have to answer (read Luke 14:12-14).

Sunday, January 27 in our ongoing series looking at how Jesus responded to different types of unbelievers, we'll study John 4, in which Jesus meets a woman who is very much an outcast.

Remember, it's our first Sunday out of the worship building. It should be interesting to experience worship in a different environment...and exciting to see what awaits us when this process is complete!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jesus and the Seeker

If we really followed Jesus, we would respond to unbelievers in the way He did. In our current sermon series at WBC, we're looking at encounters Jesus had with people who didn't yet believe in Him as Messiah. On January 20, we'll explore His encounter with Nicodemus, a highly regarded religious leader, from John 3. As you read this passage, notice that Jesus didn't use any slick evangelistic technique; He wasn't trying to manipulate this man into making a commitment. Instead, He laid out a brand new way of living for Nicodemus, then left the ball in his court. We'll follow Nicodemus after that encounter, as he wrestles with his decision. I'll be preaching this message in a very different way than usual. Be in prayer for me, as that means getting out of my preaching "comfort zone." Pray also that we would all be inspired to take this New Way to Live to our friends who have not yet discovered it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who are you rooting for?

Just to mix things up a bit, who are you rooting for in the NFL playoffs? Personally, I'm hoping the Colts win the AFC again. Tony Dungy may be my favorite person in all of sports, so it would be sweet to see him go to back-to-back Super Bowls.

On the NFC side, a part of me would love for Brett Favre and his Packers to go to the Super Bowl one more time. But the Cowboys have always been my second-favorite team (behind the Plus, their Coach Wade Phillips is a Cougar, like me.

So I'm rooting for the Colts and Cowboys.

How 'bout you?

Seeing People Through Jesus' Eyes

If we really followed Jesus, one thing that would be markedly different about us is the way we relate to people--especially those who aren't Christians. The Gospels record numerous stories of Jesus' encounters with a variety of unbelievers: Spiritual seekers and cynical skeptics; unrepentant sinners and people desperate for forgiveness...even people who were considered irredeemable by society. Between now and Easter, we will take a close look at many of these encounters, with an eye on how we should relate to similar people in our lives. But before we can discuss specifics, we must take a general look at how Jesus saw unbelievers. We must strip off the scales of our religion-blinded eyes and start to see them through His eyes. That will be the topic for the message Sunday morning, from Matthew 9:35-38.

Sunday night, we'll have a special event. I'll give you an overview of Bill Hybel's book Becoming a Contagious Christian. Let me assure you, this is not your typical evangelism fact, you might say it's evangelism for people who don't like evangelism. We'll meet in C109 at 5:00.

Friday, January 4, 2008

What if we really followed Jesus?

There's this group of religious people. They are highly influential in their culture. Admired by some, despised by others, but utterly convinced that they are God's appointed agents to keep their nation close to Him. They are courageously patriotic, socially conservative, and absolutely committed to the authority of God's Word...of which they possess encyclopedic knowledge. They are conspicuously moral and devoutly religious: Every time the temple doors are open, they are there. They tithe over and above their ten percent and pay close attention to all the thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots. And they are quick to impose their views on the key controversies in their society--both political and cultural--citing God's Word as their backing.

Am I speaking of we 21st Century evangelicals? Nope...1st Century Pharisees. That's right, the very people Jesus spent much of His ministry opposing, who later conspired to put Him to the death. It strikes me that for all the good things about Bible-believing Christians like us today, we have more in common with the Pharisees than with the apostles of our Lord. In the way we view God and His Word, the way we view ourselves, and the way we look at the unredeemed world, I see more points of contact with the enemies of Jesus than with His original followers. I don't mean to say that I think most professing, practicing Christians are really lost...that's not my call to make, and I don't think that's true anyway. But I do think that most of us American evangelicals are missing the best thing about Christianity. We're settling for the religious part, the rules and rituals, but forgoing the relationship, the adventure, the joy and freedom and world-changing power of really following Him.

That's what I'll be preaching on in 2008 at Westbury: How we can renounce our religiosity and start following Jesus like we're supposed to. What does that really mean? What difference would it make in us--and more importantly, in the world--if we did it? Starting this Sunday, January 7, we'll do a quick overview of how following Jesus differs from merely being religious. I hope to see you there.

In the meantime, and afterwards as well, I would love to read your thoughts on the subject. What is the difference between being religious and following Jesus?