Monday, April 28, 2008

Change or perish

Anyone who cares about the future of the church in America should read this article: click here. It's the result of a survey from Lifeway. It shouldn't surprise many of us that the "attractional" model of outreach (ie, build a good building and offer great programs, and non-Christian people will come flocking in) doesn't work anymore, if it ever did. That is especially important for us to note, since we at WBC have been blessed with a great building and--in my opinion at least--some awfully talented people leading outstanding programs. Those things are definitely assets, but won't enable us to reach the lost. Instead, we need to think of outreach as "incarnational."

That means that my job as a pastor isn't to lead great programs, it's equipping our members to demonstrate Christ's love, compassion and holiness to people who do not know Him. That means each one of us has to go out of our way to establish loving, genuine relationships with people who don't believe in Jesus (according to this study, only about 1 in 4 of us are doing so now). That means we have to get into our community and meet people's needs in the name of Jesus, which I hope will start happening on a wide scale at WBC when we adopt a school in fall of this year. It means we must become a more externally focused church.

My headline for this post (Change or perish) is admittedly a little sensationalistic...WBC is doing well and is not in danger of fading away anytime soon. But in the grand scheme of things, the church in America is very much at a crisis point. We've coasted along on an attractional model of doing outreach for decades now (which is actually a dressed-up way of saying we have done ministry to benefit ourselves, hoping that lost people will decide they want to get in on it, too). Either we will change radically--and I see signs of that kind of radical change in mindset among younger Christians--or we will continue to have less and less of an impact on our culture.

I am interested in reading your thoughts on this article.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Holy Discontentment

First of all, my apologies.

I'm blogging late this week, but I have a good excuse. The staff and I (minus a couple of members who couldn't make it) have been in New Orleans on a staff retreat. It was my first staff retreat--at any church--and it was great. It's a real joy to work with people you genuinely enjoy being around (and I'm not just saying that because they'll read this). Plus, it's great to get away from our daily routine and refresh our sense of calling and commitment. I appreciate Westbury giving us the freedom (and the budget) to do this.

Now, on to the topic of this week's message.

Back in the Sixties, the Rolling Stones had a huge hit (one of many) with "Satisfaction" (as in, "I can't get no..."). The song was meant to mock our consumer culture, which makes money by convincing us we should never be content with our car, our house, our food, our clothes...instead always striving for something newer, better, more expensive. I think we all agree that Jesus wouldn't work overtime so He could upgrade from a Buick to a Beamer...and He wouldn't want us to make that the goal of our lives, either. Paul in 1 Timothy admonishes us that if we have enough to eat and drink, we should be content.

So it might surprise you to find out that Paul listed discontentment as the key to experiencing the good life. Not the self-loathing discontentment of legalism, nor the self-indulgent discontentment of materialism. This Sunday, we'll look at Philippians 3:12-14 and find out how refusing to be satisfied actually leads to the greatest joy of all.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Real Thing

It's the kind of story that's so ridiculous, so sadly comic, it just can't be true...but it is. Last fall, a man in Pittsburgh asked for change at a supermarket on a $1 million bill. Not exactly a criminal mastermind, this poor fellow apparently didn't realize that no supermarket would have that sort of cash on hand, or that the largest US bill in circulation is a C-note ($100 bill). He was soon arrested.

Of course, not all counterfeits are that easy to spot. In our series on knowing Jesus (based on Philippians 3), we've looked at two counterfeit forms of faith that far too many of us fall for. There's legalism, a reliance on rules and rituals in place of real relationship. There's compromised, carnal Christianity, trying to enjoy the life of the flesh while maintaining an outward pretense of faith. Both are tempting. Both keep us from experiencing the fulness of really knowing Christ.

This week, we get to the good stuff. As the song says, there ain't nothing like the real thing, and in Philippians 3:4-14, Paul shares from his heart about the best thing that ever happened to him. It's so good, so important, we'll spend two weeks on this passage. This week, we'll look at vv. 4-11 and explore four things that you and I should be experiencing if our Christianity is a relationship, not merely a religion.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The God Who Cannot Be Contained

In 1 Kings 8, Solomon dedicates the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem. It was a big day for God's people; so big, the Bible devotes 66 verses to it. The temple had been King David's heartfelt dream, and now Solomon had fulfilled it through 7 years of hard work, international cooperation and massive expenditure of resources. The result was magnificent. Scripture spends a lot of ink describing the temple fixtures in great detail; every inch was custom-designed to bring glory to God. On the day of the dedication, the Ark of Covenant was carried into the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctum of the temple, and the glory of God entered with it in the form of a fog so thick, the priests couldn't perform their sacrifices.

Then Solomon stood before Israel and prayed a dedicatory prayer which still takes my breath away. This wisest of all earthly kings knew that God had given him a tremendous gift by allowing him to build the temple. He wanted it to be used for the right purpose. He knew the danger was that the temple would become a stumbling block to real relationship with God, instead of a tool for keeping the people holy. So Solomon prayed for seven specific situations that might occur in the future, and for God's mercy and love to guide the people. Remarkably, Solomon's prayer can be read in the light of Israelite history to show that much of what he prayed about actually did take place.

This Sunday, as we dedicate our renovated worship center, we feel some of the same excitement Israel did on that day. My hope is that, like Solomon, we will have the right perspective on this wonderful building. We will not study all 66 verses of 1 Kings 8, but we will focus on v. 27: But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!

As we celebrate the gift of a wonderful building, let us remember that it's not about the building, or's about God. And our God cannot be contained by four walls, no matter how well-appointed. I hope to see you there.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Return

Well, Sunday morning, April 13, we should be worshipping in our renovated worship center for the first time. Some of you have been following the progress on our website, others have taken sneak peaks in person. Some of you have been intimately involved in the renovation process, while others have intentionally stayed out of the loop so that the whole thing will be a wonderful surprise.

There are so many people who need to be thanked for their involvement and hard work in this process. We will attempt to do so briefly this Sunday, but please make sure you express your thanks to these people in the days to come. As for me personally, I think the renovation has been an astounding success. The building looks absolutely magnificent. The new piano and organ are going to sound fantastic. And I am especially excited about the sound system.

I hope that you are planning to be here for worship Sunday morning. It will be a day to remember at Westbury. And I hope that you will take the time to call, visit or email friends, neighbors, acquaintances who are looking for a church home, and long-time church members who have dropped out over the years. Contact them this week and invite them to the big event.

I believe this experience has been a very positive one for our church. Many people collaborated unselfishly on the renovation work. Many more gave generously, which has made our debt very manageable. Every adult and youth Sunday School department helped us set up chairs in the gym, and people in general had a terrific attitude about the temporary inconveniences brought on by this renovation. Moreover, we have continued to see new people join our church during this process. I look forward to great days ahead. And I believe this Sunday is going to be a very, very great day!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"Where did you get those eyes?"

I have to admit, we parents can be an obnoxious lot sometimes. We all--each one of us--think our kid is the smartest/cutest/funniest/most interesting child who ever lived. We all consistently bore people with the latest story of something amazing our little bundle of joy just said or did.

Well, to all of that I say without apology: Guilty as charged. And worse, I'm a dad with a pulpit and a blog. I'm your worst nightmare.

My two kids are proving to be very different. Whereas Kayleigh in her preschool years was precociously intelligent, Will is precociously witty. Yesterday morning, Carrie was watching "Diego" with him on TV. (For those of you who are blessedly unfamiliar with children's television--oh how I envy you that--there is a certain sub-genre of kids' shows like "Diego," "Dora the Explorer," and "Blue's Clues" in which the characters talk to the kids watching the program). At one point Diego spoke to the camera, introducing his friend Baby Jaguar. At that point, Will turned to his mom and asked, "Who's he talking to?" "I think he's talking to us," Carrie replied. To which Will responded very matter-of-fact: "Uh...he's on TV." So there.

As a father, the thing I am most concerned about is passing along my faith to my kids. Carrie and I both pray that our children will know Jesus and His love for them, and will live out His plan for their lives. Kayleigh surprised us with how interested she was in spiritual matters at a very young age. At three (three!) she wanted to know about heaven, and how one gets there after this life. She insisted on praying a prayer for salvation right then. We, of course, assumed she wasn't really ready to make a public profession of faith, but she hounded us for two years, begging to be baptized. Finally, when she was five, she broke away from her mom during the invitation at the end of a worship service and came to me, ready to profess her faith. Since she could answer questions about Scripture and understood more about salvation than many Christian adults I knew, I felt like I had to baptize her...she clearly knew what she was doing and why.

Will, on the other hand, is more of a conventional four-year-old, spiritually speaking. We try our best to give him the same spiritual upbringing that we are giving his sister. And we don't worry about the fact that he is much more interested in wrestling with dad or shooting imaginary bad guys than he is in Bible stories (he does, however, like the Bible stories in which fighting occurs, savage little guy that he is). But occasionally, we see signs that all of this really is sinking in. Last night, I took Will to Wendy's for supper, just the two of us. As we were getting up after our meal, a lady at a nearby table asked him, "Where did you get those eyes?" (he has very striking blue eyes, whereas mine are sort of a dull brown) "Did you get those from your mommy?" Will looked up at her and said, "No...God made me."

Good answer, kid.