Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Make it Count

In his book The Life You've Always Wanted, John Ortberg talks about a disease he calls "hurry sickness." He discusses how we Americans are addicted to speed (the concept, not the drug). Remember what made Dominoes Pizza famous? Thirty minute delivery! The founder of Dominoes once said, "We don't sell pizza, we sell delivery." (Ortberg adds, "and if you've ever tasted a Dominoes pizza, you know what he means.") In every area of life, we expect to be able to get what we want as quickly as possible. We structure our lives in such a way that we cram as much activity as possible into narrow windows of time...eating while we drive, talking on our cell phones while we walk, reading while we watch TV. We know we really have hurry sickness when we drive up to every red light attempting to predict which lane will move fastest ("On the right, there are five cars. On the left, only two, but one is a cement truck and the other is a '78 Bonneville whose left-turn blinker has been on for the past five blocks...which lane should I choose?"). We get seriously bummed if we choose the "wrong" lane and add thirty seconds to our driving time.

In all this hurry, are we really accomplishing anything lasting? Our DVRs enable us to record an entire season of our favorite show and watch it in one stretch without commercials, but will that change anyone's eternity? I can multi-task with the best of them, but does that help anyone find their purpose in life?

The biggest tragedy of all is to get to the end of one's life and realize that we have wasted our precious years. As we continue in our Sunday morning series on responding to unbelievers the way Jesus did, we'll look this Sunday at Psalm 90:12, which commands us to "number our days." What does that mean? And how can we live in such a way that every day counts? That's what we'll discuss this Sunday.

Christian vs. Christ-follower: the movie

All this year, I am preaching on what it means to really follow Christ, rather than merely being religious. Someone has posted a series of videos on youtube which explore the differences in a rather humorous parodying the "Mac vs. PC" commercials. Here are a few for you to watch (By the way, if you've never been to, I need to make this disclaimer: Youtube is not a Christian site. Some videos on the site are very much not "family friendly." These "Christian vs. Christ-follower" videos are produced by a Christian organization, but users can type comments below each video, and some of the comments can tend to be vulgar. So use this with discretion.):

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

There are others, but you get the point. I have to say, the videos are very well-made, and actually quite funny. They make some good points about our religiosity. On the other hand, they have a smart-alecky tone that would likely appeal to people who already think the way they do, but turn off more traditional Christians.

Here is a link to a pretty good online discussion of this video series. Below are a pair of comments, one pro, one con, that I think make good arguments for and against this approach:

Rick D:
I guess I ought to like the videos, I love clever parodies, but they feel a little smarmy and self righteous. “We’re the real Christ followers, you’re not”
I like clever parodies but here’s the problem. The guy in the suit is my Dad. He loves the Lord with all his heart but was brought up in a generation that dressed up to go to church. He only listens to Hymns or classical music. He sent my younger brother to Christian School. He always carries the Bible, he loves it. He reads a lot of Christian books. I suppose I am a little bit like the other guy…I listen to Jazz, rock, blues, roots, folk and Christian music and I wear jeans to church. But I love my Dad and we sit in the same pew every Sunday and worship together.
I can understand mocking pharisees, but I really want to make sure they are the bad kind. The kind that are “white-washed tombs filled with dead-mens bones”, who withold money from poor parents, who are “son of hell” as he calls them in Matt 23, not just culturally stunted. Does anyone doubt that underneath the guy in the suit loves the Lord? Paul and Nicodemus were pharisees too.


Two thoughts:
First, the quality of the videos is really great. The actors get the comic timing down perfectly.
Secondly, in response to some of the comments above—you guys make some good points, but I think you might be taking the videos a bit too seriously. When I watched the videos I saw Christians poking fun at some of their own foibles and making some clever points in the process—I didn’t sense any mean-spirited mockery of other Christians. Heaven knows I’ve exactly fit, at times in my life, some of the stereotypes they’re teasing; but it’s fun to have a laugh at our own expense sometimes.

So I'm interested to read what you all think of these. We don't have video in our worship center, so I'm not going to be showing them on Sunday morning or anything. I'd just like to read your comments about this whole approach.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jesus and the Hurting

It sounds too shocking to be true, but according to the Associated Press, it really happened. 27-year-old LaShanda Callaway was stabbed to death at a convenience store in Wichita, Kansas, last June. Police investigators viewed the store's security camera video and discovered that as Callaway lay dying, five different people stepped over her on their way down the store aisles. Only one stopped--just long enough to take a picture of her with his cell phone. Said Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams, "This is appalling. What happened to our respect for life?"

What happened, indeed? While we probably all think that we would have responded differently had we been in that convenience store, I wonder how often we "step over" those who are hurting all around us. Of course, we have our excuses. After all, we're busy. We don't know what to do. We have problems of our own. But I think it's worth noting that when Jesus was here in the flesh, hurting people knew that they could go to him...including two profoundly suffering people in Mark 5:22-43, the subject of our sermon Sunday. And never, ever did Jesus ignore someone who was genuinely in need.

If we're really following Jesus, we will show compassion to those who are hurting. We may not have the power to heal them...but we know the one who does.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

School Adoption

In my sermon on February 17 ("Jesus the Transformer"), I mentioned the idea of adopting a school. Just wanted you to know that wasn't an original idea. There are a number of parachurch organizations, such as Tony Evans' Urban Alternative and Buckner Baptist Benevolences, that have developed school adoption programs. I believe this could be the perfect way for Westbury to begin reaching out to our community in an ongoing local mission effort. I say begin because I think such a strategy will lead to other ideas as we get involved in the lives of kids in a nearby school.

Wednesday, March 5, Mission Houston will be holding a luncheon to discuss a program called Whole and Healthy Children...a school adoption plan. I plan to go, along with Brandon Webb, the staff leader of our Missions Committee. If any of you are interested in the luncheon, or in learning more about the program, here's a link:

I am excited about what God can do through us as we show Christ's love to families in our community. I'll let you know what I find out...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Jesus the Transformer

No, this week's sermon is not about how Jesus can change from a giant robot into a sports car. I have no doubt He could do so if He wanted, but gratuitous displays of power (or "showing off") never has been His style.

Instead, the Jesus we meet in the Gospels reserves His power for the hard and beautiful work of transforming people from the inside out. This Sunday, we'll look at a great story of this transformation in John 9. But until then, I'll leave you with this thought: Are you and I working with Jesus in transforming people's lives? Or are we standing in the way? Jesus wants to change my life...not just send me to Heaven when I die. He wants to transform the lives of every person I know. He wants to impact our community so significantly, citizens, media, government officials and sociologists will have no rational explanation for the change in the overall quality of life. Do you and I really believe those things can happen? Are we willing to make that our mission as individuals and as a church? If not, we're standing in His way...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Jesus and the Sinner

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I am now reading the biography of John Newton, the guy who wrote Amazing Grace. It's one of the greatest stories of redemption in church history, and it has been told many times...but it never gets old. Newton was a rough character: so rough even his colleagues in the slave-trading business thought he needed to shape up. He was not only immoral and profane, he was also a confirmed atheist. One night during a storm on the high seas, Newton prayed to the God his devout mother had followed. That was his conversion. Over time, Newton became a much more gentle and principled sailor. Then he grew into a devout layman, then an ordained pastor, a prolific hymnwriter and author, and eventually, a powerful leader in the movement to abolish slavery. Newton reminds us that God's grace and power are big enough to transform anyone who wants to be changed.

But here's the discouraging question: Why don't we see more John Newtons in our churches today? Where are the dramatic conversions? God's word is still true, the good news is still good, the Spirit is still just as powerful, and we all know people are still just as sinful. The only thing that has changed is the church. We've stopped responding to the John Newtons of this world like Jesus did, and started responding to them like religious people. This Sunday, we'll take a look at John 8:1-11, and see the difference.

What are you reading?

Right now, I'm reading John Newton, From Disgrace to Amazing Grace. It's the biography of the guy who wrote Amazing Grace. Quite a story, and very well-written by a British former politician who has a pretty amazing redemption story of his own. I'm nearly through now, and I'm trying to decide what to read next. Any suggestions? It doesn't have to be something "spiritual," by the way, I like a good novel as much as the next guy. In fact, that's really the direction I'd like to go next.

If you'd like another suggestion from me--and you're not a history geek--I'd highly recommend the book I read before this: Same Kind of Different As Me. It's a true story about a rich art dealer and a homeless former sharecropper who became unlikely friends. That doesn't make it sound very exciting, I know. But trust me...this book will inspire you.