Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We have something to celebrate!

Recently on an online message board that I frequent, the question was asked, "Do atheists and other non-Christians celebrate Christmas?" There are a handful of outspoken unbelievers on the board, as well as a few devout adherents to other faiths, and I think all of them weighed in. All of them basically agreed that Christmas is a great holiday that they enjoy very much. They enjoy the time off from work certainly, but also the special get-togethers with family and friends. Some actually put up a Christmas tree. All of them said they give and receive gifts. They love the whole atmosphere that surrounds this time of year, with its emphasis on joy, giving and love.

All of that is wonderful, of course. I'm genuinely glad that this special season is enjoyable to my friends and neighbors of other beliefs, and of no beliefs at all. But as a Christian, I am glad to say that my celebration of Christmas is more than a "winter holiday" (as the school system now refers to the break between semesters), more than an excuse to take time off from work, see loved ones, open gifts, and get fat on some really great cooking (although I delight in all of the above). It is more than Bing Crosby songs, It's a Wonderful Life, Scrooge's redemption and "You'll shoot your eye out, kid," although I treasure those things as well. It is the time we celebrate a God who did what none of us could have predicted--became one of us--so that we could possess what none of us could have earned--full justification, spotless and perfect in the sight of our Judge for all eternity.

Let's be clear on something: We Christians don't "own" Christmas. We merely took over an ancient pagan holiday. Instead of feasting and gift-giving in the name of gods no one believes in anymore, our forefathers chose to rejoice in the incarnation of Christ, even though the Bible never commands us to do so. For the most part, our observances of Christmas are shaped more by Charles Dickens, Clement C. Moore, and Irving Berlin (and Macy's, Old Navy, and JC Penney) than by Scripture. But take away all the tinsel and tissue paper, and only we Christians still have a reason to celebrate. Even if we can't be with our loved ones at Christmas time; even if our bills preclude us from buying something wonderful for all the people on our list (or if the gifts we receive fail epically at meeting our desires); even if our cholesterol keeps us from enjoying "Roast Beast" with all the other Whos in Whoville, we still have a God who loves us enough to take our place. So celebrate the Messiah this week...intentionally.

This Christmas Eve, we will have two candlelight services, as usual. The 5:30 service is a little shorter to acommodate families with small children. The 7:00 service will be more full (there's a bigger crowd, and a bigger service as well). But you're invited to either one. Make sure your friends know they are invited, too. I will be speaking briefly (10 minutes or so) as I continue our series on "God So Loved the World" with a look at that word, "Whosoever" in John 3:16.

Sunday, we'll conclude the series by focusing on Christ's promise of everlasting life. What difference should it make in our lives if we really believe in that promise?

Let me say it once again: When's the last time you invited someone to church? Now is the perfect time. They need a reason to really celebrate, too.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jesus, the One and Only

It was the summer before my fifth-grade year, and I'd just gotten some really disturbing news. My teacher in the upcoming year was going to be Mrs. Rudolph. I had been warned about her. A kid one year older than me had said that Mrs. Rudolph was mean, that she screamed at the kids and made their lives miserable. So, it was with a palpable sense of dread that I entered fifth grade.

This past week, my mom called to tell me that Mrs. Rudolph's husband, Glen had succumbed to a very aggressive cancer. I emailed my former teacher to tell her I was praying for her, her son Brooks and his wife. She wrote back an email that spoke of her faith that God would sustain her through this time. You see, my friend was wrong. While I was blessed with many wonderful teachers in my formative years, Mrs. Rudolph stands out in my memory as my favorite. She was the first teacher to make me feel like an adult. She was very much in charge of the classroom, and did not stand for the typical 11-year-old attitude, but she was never mean. She never screamed at us. Every memory of that year for me is a good one.

Have you ever experienced something similar--finding out that the true person is far different from what others have said about him or her? If that's true of ordinary folks, how much more true is it of the greatest man who ever lived? 2000 years after His birth, death and resurrection, Jesus is still the most important person in history, and everyone from atheists to fundamentalists has an opinion on who He was and what He stood for. Yet even those of us who claim to be strictly biblical can often be guilty of seeing Jesus through the veil of our assumptions and prejudices. There is only one Jesus Christ. As we continue to focus on John 3:16, this Sunday we'll talk about God's only begotten.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Brother's Keeper

Last night, I attended a Christmas party for a Christian organization in our city that I support. The party was potluck, with the host supplying the meat. Our host, my good friend Nick Howard, has been a missionary in Germany. He has what most of us would consider an adventurous culinary taste...thanks to Nick, I often get to try new kinds of food. So last night, Nick brought meat from the only Bosnian restaurant in Houston. He was pretty vague as to what kind of meat it was...although I'm pretty sure some of it was chicken (but then again, doesn't most meat taste like chicken? Hmm...). It was delicious.

It was a reminder that we live in a very international city here in Houston. Sure, there's good ol' Tex-Mex on every corner, and you can still find Texas-style barbecue easily enough. But you can also enjoy cuisine from just about anywhere on the planet without leaving the city limits. You can also hear just about any language spoken here in our town. That doesn't just make this an interesting place to live. It means the mission field has come to our doorstep.

Most people prefer the company of others who are like them. It's why neighborhoods and churches are often segregated. But God so loved the whole world that He sent His one and only Son to die...and that love compels us to love people who may not be like us at all. This Sunday, as we continue our Advent focus on John 3:16, we'll look at 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, at the profound sense of responsibility we have for our neighbors. See you there.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

God So Loved the World

Our theme for this Advent season, beginning November 29, will be "God So Loved the World." We will be hearing and singing some songs that come to us from other parts of the world to remind us that God's love stretches all the way around this planet of ours (Don't worry, we'll sing your favorite carols, too). In my preaching, I will be taking a look at John 3:16, the most famous verse in the Bible.

This week, we'll look at that first phrase: "For God so loved..." No other world religion teaches a personal God who loves people. Yet the God who made you loves you more than you can ever comprehend...enough to make the ultimate sacrifice just to spend eternity with you. If that's true--and we know it is--then God's love is the greatest thing that has ever happened to you and me. If that's true, then experiencing His love and loving Him back is more important to our happiness and well-being than anything else we can do. So what does that mean in practical terms? We'll talk about that this first Sunday of Advent as we look at Jesus' words in John 6:35.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Do it Again, Lord!

Here's a question for you: Should jockeys be considered athletes? What about race car drivers? Sure, they are sports participants. And what they do takes a specialized set of skills (and in the case of jockeys, specific physical proportions). Sports fans know the names of the most successful ones (especially drivers). But does this make them athletes? After all, it's really something else that supplies the power. After all, no one buys a ticket to watch drivers run a hundred-meter dash, or jockeys play basketball.

Okay, you must be wondering what my point is. This Sunday, I plan to preach a "State of the Church" message. I did the same thing last year around this time, and I spoke of stuff we had accomplished the year before, and what I hoped we'd do in the year ahead. Nothing wrong with that. It's good to make plans, to make sure everyone knows where we're headed. But what our church needs more than good plans is the power of God. Without that, we're jockeys playing basketball...spiritually speaking.

This Sunday, we'll look at Habakkuk 3:2, reading the prayer of a prophet whose situation in life was not as different from ours as it might first appear. We'll talk about how the power of God is evident in the world today (for a little sneak preview of what I'm talking about, search for "Muslim visions of Jesus" on the internet), and ask Him to bring that same power to our place and time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Esther 7-10: What to do With Your Enemies

I read a few hours ago that John Muhammed, the "D. C. sniper," was put to death this morning. Someone on an online message board, writing to express his opposition to capital punishment, said, "What did this solve? His victims are still dead." Others on the message board quickly responded with satisfaction that a cold-blooded killer, a man who had slain innocent strangers, had now received his just reward.

I don't want to get into the capital punishment debate on this blog. It is indeed a complex issue, and while I have my personal opinions, I doubt I could do the issue justice here. But I would like to point out that there is a fundamental, God-given desire for justice in the human heart. Left to its own devices, unchecked by the balance of love, that hunger for justice can devolve into a hateful yearning for vengeance. On the other hand, there are those who rightly stand up for freedom against the possibility of an all-powerful state, who argue that state-sanctioned killing makes us all guilty of the blood of our fellow man.

It seems obvious to me that God created human governments in part so that evil could be punished. Read Romans 13 sometime, where Paul reminds us that God gave the king a sword for a reason, and so the power of the state must be respected. But then read Jesus' challenging words in the Sermon on the Mount, and we're reminded that while God uses the state to stamp out injustice, in interpersonal relationships, we are called to respond to hatred with love, to violence with peace, to enemies with friendship.

That's not easy to do. Even if we're promised that our enemies will get their just desserts in this life or the next, it's awfully sacrificial to let go of our need for personal vengeance against those who have hurt us. Yet if we have faith in the God who loves us, we will do exactly that.

What does this have to do with Esther? For three weeks now, we have seen an insidious plot formed against the people of God. We have seen two brave, godly people in Esther and Mordecai stand up boldly for innocent lives. If you've never read the story, you may wonder how all of this is going to end. Come this Sunday, and you will see how God equips and allows us to defend ourselves, while never endorsing personal vengeance...how He assures us that there will be justice, but leaves open the possibility that something even greater will happen to our enemies...redemption.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

National Outreach Convention, II

I came back from the convention on Friday, but I wanted to post a couple more things I heard and experienced that you might find of some interest.

Thursday evening, I attended a seminar led by Dino Rizzo, pastor of The Healing Place in Baton Rouge, LA. The seminar was basically a walk-through of their ministry values and habits. One thing they preach consistently--that I liked very much--was the idea that Jesus, while surrounded by crowds, was always interested in the individual. He stopped to heal a woman with an issue of blood, or to touch a leper, or to heal a centurion's servant. He came to save the World, but He always had time for one person. At the Healing Place, their ministry motto is, "we don't give titles, we give towels," based on the story of Jesus washing His disciples' feet in John 13.

Friday morning, I attended a seminar led by Bob Roberts, who pastors Northwood Church in Keller, TX. His church has planted 89 new churches in the US, but is known for international mission work. His "a-ha moment" years ago was when he realized that in the early church, Christians didn't pay professionals to be missionaries, the churches were the missionaries. (He stressed that he isn't against full-time professional missionaries, as his daughter is considering going to the mission field. He just doesn't think churches should end their mission involvement at giving funds). His church chose to adopt a city in Vietnam, and have since seen hundreds of their members do real "foreign missions." Some have hosted Vietnamese exchange students for a year. Others have traveled to Vietnam to help with various kinds of relief work, such as teachers who helped design a new special education curriculum for Vietnamese schools. Bob himself has traveled the world doing mission work and representing Christ. You can check out his blog for more information: http://www.glocal.net/

One interesting note came during a question-and-answer time. Someone in the crowd asked Bob how the election of Barrack Obama has affected Christian work overseas, especially in Muslim countries. He said that Obama's story has been an eye-opener for Muslims who are drawn to Christianity. In these cultures, where often it is seen as imperative for a child to follow his or her father's faith, it is noteworthy to see a prominent man whose father was a Muslim, but who as an adult is a professing Christian. This has opened doors for conversion to Christ.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Esther 5-6: The Two Roads

My brother ran cross country in high school and college. A cross country race takes place in an open place, like a golf course or park, instead of on a track. Therefore, it's possible for a runner to get lost if he's not paying attention to the race markers. It wouldn't matter if you ran 3 miles faster than anyone else if you were running in the wrong direction.

Paul liked to compare life to a race. At the end of his life, in his second letter to Timothy, he said, "I have finished my course." He didn't just mean, "my life is almost done." He meant, "I've run the race God marked out for me before I was born." Because of that, Paul was able to die with hope instead of regret. He was excited about the future, not despondent about the past.

All of us are running a race. If you have gotten off course, wouldn't you like to know it as soon as possible? This Sunday, we'll look at the lives of two major figures in the book of Esther, named Mordecai and Haman. These two men couldn't have been more different. One achieved some earthly success, while the other found eternal glory. It's a fantastic story, with a WOW of an ending, but it's also a wakeup call for each of us...which one of those men are you more like?

National Outreach Convention

I'm at the NOC this week. It's a great experience, but I feel like I'm drinking from a fire hose. I'm trying to write down as many notes as possible, even as I'm being challenged and renewed in my calling to lead a church that reaches its community. So here are just a few insights I've gotten:

From a discussion group on welcoming guests to your church:

Most people make up their minds about our church within the first seven minutes. That is before the music or preaching begins. Incidentally, the group leader said that a healthy church should have about 5 first-time guests in every service for every 100 people in attendance. I'm not sure where he got that stat from, but I did the math: For our church, that means we should have 20-25 first-time guests in every service! We don't have anywhere close to that, but it sounds like a great goal to shoot for.

From Ed Stetzer, in a message from 2 Timothy 4:5

"Why did Paul have to remind Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist?” Because Timothy was in an established church (Ephesus), and like all established churches, it had grown inward over time. He had so much “pastoring” to do that he was tempted to stop being an evangelist. That's still the downfall of many church leaders today."

"Don’t let outreach be the enemy of evangelism. Don’t just get people to church, get them to Jesus. Outreach is a wonderful tool, but only the Gospel saves. We should strive to know nothing but Christ crucified."

From Efrem Smith, who pastors a multi-ethnic church in Minneappolis:

"The church should look like Heaven will look—diverse."

"Consider the impala. It can jump 13 feet in the air, enabling it to escape from lions. But it can be kept in a zoo behind a 3-ft tall fence. Why? Because it won’t jump if it doesn’t know where it will land. We don’t know what our ministry efforts will produce, so we sit. If only we would jump into the world’s problems, we could break free. We wait for Washington to fix health care, when the church could fix health care itself. What happened to us? We used to build hospitals…we just got lazy."

From Nelson Searcy:

"People usually come to Christ and to your church when one of three things is going on in their lives: They are under tension, in transition, or in trouble. There is more tension, transition and trouble in our world now than ever before, so now is the time for the church to shine."

From Sam Rainer, in a seminar called "Reclaiming a Generation of Church Dropouts:"

"Of those who drop out of church, 70% will do so between the ages of 18-22."

Rainer researched this group of people who are abandoning the church. He found that they are NOT leaving because of music styles, or because they went off to a state college that "stole their faith..." People who attended secular universities drop out of church at the same rate as those who didn't.

The answer is found in two places: The family and the church. Young adults are much more likely to "stick" in church if three things are true of their family:
1. Families who regularly talk about spiritual matters.
2. They serve together in the church.
3. They pray together.
For kids whose families are not involved in church, the more adults from church are involved in their lives, the more likely they are to stay involved in church.

For the church, the keys are:

1. Community: They need a group to belong to (which leads me to praise God that our church has put such a priority on our college and career department!).

2. Transparency: They want to feel that their pastors are open with them. They want to know why, not just what they are supposed to do.

3. Mentoring: This doesn't have to be anything formal. They want older adults to just "hang out" with them.

4. Opportunity: For young adults today, the worship service is no longer the front door of the church...instead, it's the missions program. In other words, young adults are drawn to, and will stay in, a church where they feel they can make a positive difference in the world. For me, this was one of the most profound things I've heard at this entire conference.

5. Shooting straight: They really want to know the truth. We shouldn't worry about offending people or being controversial. Just tell the truth.

6. Team leadership: They HATE autocratic leadership. They want to feel they have a part in the direction of the church.

7. Correction: They want accountability. Believe it or not, many young adults are drawn to churches that practice church discipline.

8. Forgiveness: Most young adults have no concept of forgiveness or grace. They carry guilt and shame, and need to know that God can overcome their sin.

9. Diversity: Young adults look at race in a different way than previous generations. They are used to being around people of other ethnicities, and do NOT want to be in churches that are all one race.

10. Joy: They yearn for true celebration. This world offers counterfeit celebration; we must offer them something a genuine reason to rejoice.

If I can find the time, I will post some more insights tomorrow. I should be home tomorrow night, Lord willing. Thank you, WBC, for sending me to this conference, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

For Such a Time As This

There is something that has always bothered me about the world of sports. When an 18-year old kid stands at the free throw line in a key moment of a college basketball game, fans are allowed to scream their heads off. Onlookers, band members and cheerleaders can do all manner of distracting motions behind the basket. One particular team even has a very overweight fan who specializes in his shirtless gyrations to distract the opposing free thrower. But in golf, when a multimillionaire professional stands ready to put in his ball, there must be absolute silence. Even the TV announcers whisper. Does this seem unjust to anyone else?

In the world of sports, there are many defining moments. Fourth and goal. Match point. The final attempt. Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, full count. An athlete's performance in these moments of truth defines how he or she will be judged for years to come. Bill Buckner had a long and distinguished baseball career, but today most fans only know him as the guy who let a ball roll between his legs in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series. On the other hand, Timmy Smith's pro football career was brief and rather uneventful, except for the night he set a Super Bowl record for rushing in 1988. As long as he lives, there will be Washington Redskin fans willing to buy him dinner.

But those are just games. In real life, the defining moments are much more important. They also come with less advance notice. There is no announcer standing by, solemnly intoning, "It all comes down to this..." We simply live our lives, and suddenly out of the clear blue sky, we find ourselves face to face with a life-changing decision, an eternally significant opportunity, or a seductive temptation. How will we respond in the moment of truth?

Esther faced just such a moment. She didn't seem qualified to be the savior of an entire race of people. Yet there she stood, with the weight of the world on her narrow shoulders. This Sunday, we'll find out how she responded as we look at Esther 4. And we'll discuss the characteristics you and I need to work on in anticipation of those key moments in our own lives.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Esther: God is Still God

According to an article in Reader's Digest, 15 people have attempted to go over Niagara Falls. 10 have survived. The most recent, Robert Overacker, died attempting to go over on a jet ski in 1995. Overacker died because his rocket-powered parachute wasn't sufficiently tied to his back (Ouch!).

You might be surprised to learn who was the first person to attempt to cross Niagara:

Annie Edson Taylor, a plump 63-year-old schoolteacher who claimed to be in her early 40s. She used a four-and-a-half-foot barrel packed with inflated pillows, a mattress, and an anvil (for ballast). Her ride was fairly uneventful, apart from the fact that she plunged roughly 170 feet over the falls in the middle of it; she was fished out 75 minutes after she'd gone in, bruised and shaken but alive. She reportedly told onlookers, "No one ought ever do that again."

I love that last line. Ms. Taylor has a point, you know. Why face an impossible obstacle if you don't have to? Unfortunately, there are some obstacles we all have to face. As people who follow a God we cannot see, we face some pretty steep, seemingly insurmountable obstacles to our faith:

1. We live in a world that seems to mock our values and beliefs.
2. We can't always see what God is up to in our moments of deepest need.
3. Often, the bad guys seem to win in this life.

This Sunday, we'll begin a new four-week series in the book of Esther. It's one of the most exciting stories ever told, full of intrigue and suspense, with an ending that no screenwriter could invent. But it's also the only book of the Bible that never mentions God's name. There are no overt miracles, no voice from the sky, no great "ah-ha" moments for our heroes, Esther and Mordecai. Yet even as they face the same obstacles we do, they learn that God is still God. I hope you'll be with us this Sunday.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Faith in Action ministry report

Sunday, October 11, we did something WBC has never done before. We cancelled worship and Sunday School in order to do ministry projects in our community. We called it Faith in Action Day. I must admit, I was a little nervous as to how it would go. It’s much easier to do what we usually do; new stuff is always a little scary. But I am so very proud of my church family and how you performed! Here’s a brief summary of our activities that day:

19 people helped repair the home of one of our neighbors. They replaced rotting wood, converted a back porch into a covered patio, replaced an exterior door and frame, cleaned up the yard, removed a tree and debris, and planted shrubs.

17 people served Braes Interfaith Ministries. Six people put away summer clothes at the Resale Shop to make room for winter, moved Christmas items into the store to sell, changed air conditioning filters, mopped, and vacuumed. Eleven people worked at the Braes Pantry, preparing bags of groceries for people in need within the community, vacuuming, disinfecting, and bringing files up to date.

18 people handed out water bottles with the WBC logo and information on them. They started out on the Braeswood jogging trail. When it started to rain, rather than quit, they handed the bottles outside places like 24 Hour Fitness and Walmart.

50 people did landscaping work at McNamara Elementary. They planted new shrubs, helped alleviate drainage problems, and transformed the outside science area. Principal Chenier sent us a wonderful thank-you note.

8 people went door-to-door near the church, praying for our neighbors. They handed out bags with a water bottle and a flyer about our church.

52 people prepared care baskets for the Women’s Pregnancy Center. These baskets, including baby needs and hand-written notes from our members, will encourage expectant mothers to choose life for their unborn babies.

56 people worked at Westbury Square. They did major exterior clean-up and planting. This was definitely our most visible project, as many people stopped to ask what was going on!
27 people led a worship service at Holly Hall Retirement Community. Our very own Steve Moore is Executive Director there, and he said the residents and staff are still talking about the great worship experience.

10 people ministered at Godwin Park, handing out lemonade, cookies and information about WBC.

16 people prepared lunch for all the workers, plus delivered water to various ministry sites.

26 people served a meal to the homeless at The Beacon downtown.
52 people prayed for Faith in Action, our community, church and nation, in a prayer meeting in our sanctuary.

I also must thank the ladies who handled our child care, David Nance for taking pictures at all the ministry sites, and LuAnn Knoblauch for getting us our T-shirts at cost.

As you can see, we had a very productive day of ministry. Church members of all ages worked together to share the love of Christ with many facets of our community. Thank you, WBC, for being willing to do something new. More importantly, I thank you that you were willing to—for one Sunday—not go to church, but BE the church.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Faith in Action Day, this Sunday!

Our first-ever Faith in Action Day is upon us! This Sunday, October 11, we will suspend our regular Bible study classes and worship service so we can participate in a variety of ministry opportunities in our community. Twelve different groups of WBC members and guests will be serving the Lord. Instead of going to church, we’re going to BE the church. Since this is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. So allow me to give you some answers to questions I’ve been hearing lately.

Where should I go for my ministry project, and what time should I be there?

If the leader of your ministry team hasn’t contacted you yet, give them a call today. If you can’t get in touch with your ministry team leader, call the office. Each team will have its own schedule, so make sure you know where to be and when.

I haven't signed up for a ministry project. What can I do?

Most of our ministry projects are full at this time. You can check the website to see which ones still have space. Of course, you can show up at any of the sites to encourage and observe, but there won’t be much for you to do, and it’s probably too late for you to get a T-shirt (although some of you may not mind so much—see below). There is still plenty of room in our prayer meeting, however. We’ll be gathering in the sanctuary at 10:30 to pray for all of our ministry teams, our church, community and nation.

What if we have bad weather?

Right now, the forecast looks excellent: Highs in the mid-70s with only a slight chance of rain. Even if it rains a little, most of our ministry teams will still be able to function. My advice is that, unless we have the mother of all storms Sunday morning, we all show up and see what we can do.

Won't we miss a week's offering?

Yes, we will. Our church budget is an ambitious one, and it will hurt indeed to miss one week’s income. But last year after Hurricane Ike hit, we missed all of one week’s offerings, and most of a second week. Yet the Lord provided amply. We trust that our faithful tithing members will continue to give faithfully, and that we will have all that we need to do what God wants us to do.

Seriously, white T-shirts? What were you thinking?

I get this question from many of our ladies, though they’ve all been much more polite than the question above. I must plead ignorance in this case. White T-shirts were totally my call. I chose them because they were much cheaper. LuAnn Knoblauch, one of our own members, is supplying us these T-shirts at cost, and that is a tremendous blessing. They look great, but I have since learned that many ladies do not feel comfortable wearing white cotton. I’ve learned my lesson.

Do we have to wait until 12:30 to eat lunch?

I get this one mostly from the guys. The short answer is no, we won’t stop you from taking a lunch break at 11, if you need it. But I hope you will all come to our lunch at 12:30 in the gym, either way. We’ll serve until around 1:15, then we’ll have a chance to hear reports from every ministry team. You don’t want to miss that.

What else can I do?

Pray for this day. Pray for good weather and for a great turnout from our people (over 325 WBC members have signed up, which is fantastic!). Pray that God would prepare the hearts of the people we will minister to on Sunday. Pray that He would use our efforts to open doors and establish relationships that lead to new life. Pray that this event would change us as a congregation, making us more concerned about our neighbors, more missional and outreach-focused. Pray that we would know the best way to follow up on what happens this Sunday, that it would not simply be a one-shot event, but the start of something really big.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

God With Skin On

In his Letters to a Young Evangelical, Tony Campolo shares a story from his youth about taking Communion:

Sitting with my parents at a Communion service when I was very young, perhaps six or seven years old, I became aware of a young woman in the pew in front of us who was sobbing and shaking. The minister had just finished reading the passage of Scripture written by Paul that says, "Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27). As the Communion plate with its small pieces of bread was passed to the crying woman before me, she waved it away and then lowered her head in despair. It was then that my Sicilian father leaned over her shoulder and, in his broken English, said sternly, "Take it, girl! It was meant for you. Do you hear me?"She raised her head and nodded—and then she took the bread and ate it. I knew that at that moment some kind of heavy burden was lifted from her heart and mind. Since then, I have always known that a church that could offer Communion to hurting people was a special gift from God.

Our job as a church is to say to the hurting, ashamed and despairing people of our community, "It was meant for you! Take it!" The "it" of course, is not just a communion wafer, but what it represents: The sacrifice of Jesus for their sins and the presence of Jesus in their lives, bringing them eternal and abundant life. These days, however, such people aren't often likely to be found in a church. Instead, we have to live like missionaries, taking the love of Christ to them right where they are, rather than waiting for them to come to us. That's why we've been in this series, "How to Win Your Friends...Naturally" for six weeks. We've looked at different ways people in Scripture shared their faith with others. This week, we'll close out the series with a message about reaching people for whom words aren't enough. It will tie in very nicely with our Faith in Action Day the next Sunday. I hope I see you there...both Sundays.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You've Got To See This!

Two years ago, Lifeway Resources studied unchurched people in the United States. One of the most surprising things they learned was that non-Christians are willing to give church a try--but only if they can go with a friend. 82% said they would attend church if a friend invited them and agreed to go with them. Can you believe that? With the soaring cost of advertising and direct mail campaigns, isn't it good to know the best method of promoting our church's message is still free of charge? Just invite your friends!

That's the good news. Now for the bad.

Lifeway also surveyed Christians, asking them, "Have you invited an unchurched person to visit your church in the past year?" Only 21% said yes. How can this be? This Sunday, we'll look at the story of a woman who won an entire village to Christ simply by saying, "Come and see!" And she wasn't as socially accomplished as most of us; in fact, she was the town outcast. Yet people were so hungry for spiritual truth...and she was so excited about what she had found in meeting Jesus, that her invitation was accepted. What must we do in order to effectively invite our friends to meet Christ at church? We'll take a look at that this Sunday in a message from John 4.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know

There's a great line the movie As Good As It Gets. Jack Nicholson plays a character who is unlikable in every way. He is rude and inconsiderate to his neighbors, treats a lovely waitress with contempt, and throws his neighbor's small dog down a laundry chute (Okay, I'll admit I've wanted to do something like that last one...but I never have). The waitress is kind to him in spite of his oblivious attitude toward the rest of the world, but one day while having dinner with him, she says, "Give me a compliment. I need one." He proceeds to unleash one of the most romantic lines in the history of cinema. He says, "You make me want to be a better man."

That is what we can say about the very best friends God gives us. If you are very, very fortunate, as I am, you can say that about the person you married, or about a lifelong friend you still have today. Proverbs tells us "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." That is the purpose of friendship: To provide us with the encouragement and challenge of someone else, pushing us toward all God has for us.

As God's people, we must take responsibility for the fact that every person in our lives was put there for a purpose. Are we fulfilling God's purpose in each and every one of our relationships? Matthew was a man who didn't waste the relationships he had formed with dozens of fellow tax collectors and other notorious "sinners." When Jesus came into His life, the first thing he did was make sure his friends got to know Jesus as well. This Sunday, we'll look at how God expects us to bring Christ into all of our relationships, as we study Matthew 9:9-13, part of our series, How to Win Your Friends...Naturally.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Just For Fun

I really don't have time for Youtube. I really don't. But every once in a while, I get one of those links I just have to pass along. There's nothing remotely spiritual about any of this, but joy is indeed one of the fruits of the Spirit, so enjoy:

Comedian Tim Hawkins' ode to Chick Fil-A:


Mr. Bean's visit to church, complete with unfriendly people, unfamiliar hymns, and a non-cooperative piece of peppermint candy:


Tell Your Story: The Blind Man's Testimonial Approach

There is something in us that loves stories. Stories have a power that other forms of speech, like straight lecture or traditional three-point preaching, do not have. Do you want proof? Alright, indulge me in a little experiment:

Quick, tell me how you met your spouse or best friend. Tell me about something embarassing that happened to you in high school. Tell me the story your family re-tells every year around the Thanksgiving table. Tell me the most exciting or frustrating thing that has happened to you this week. Tell me the basic plot of the movie you rented recently.

Easy, isn't it? We remember stories. We listen when others tell them. We rehearse them in our minds as we lie in bed. We laugh at them, cry at them, learn from them.

Now, for part two of the experiment: Tell me one point of the sermon I preached last Sunday. One point. Any point. Hello? Buehler?

Not so easy, is it? Heck, I'd bet money my own wife couldn't remember any of the points. (For that matter, could I? Hmmm....)

Stories have power. That's part of the reason Jesus did most of His teaching in stories called parables. Yet traditionally we've been told the best way to share our faith with people is in a series of propositional truths: The Four Spiritual Laws. The two Evangelism Explosion questions. The Bridge Illustration. The Roman Road.

Maybe...and I'm just spitballing here...it would be more natural for us to simply to tell our stories to people who do not believe. More natural for us--rather than memorizing a set of Scriptures or a canned presentation--and more effective for them. This Sunday, we'll look at a man who didn't know much at all about Jesus. He just knew, "I was blind, but now I see." His story is found in John 9. What is your story? Are you eager for people to know it? If not, why not?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Use Your Head: Paul's Intellectual Approach

Imagine a young, cocky freshman goes off to college hoping to "score" a girlfriend. Now imagine our freshman--let's call him Billy Bob--decides on a fool-proof strategy: He will ask any moderately attractive woman on campus out on a date. If she refuses, he will try again. And again. And again. His thinking is that, sooner or later, someone will say yes. And after all, what does it hurt to ask? The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?

Well, I think we can all imagine what will happen to Billy Bob. Instead of becoming Big Man on Campus, he will become widely known as The Creepy Guy. Instead of finding true love, he will find himself the proud recipient of dozens of restrainment orders. And that's IF he's not dumb enough to try his strategy on the girlfriend of the middle linebacker...in that case, he could wind up in a full body cast. Ultimately, Billy Bob's strategy will backfire in every way; not only will he not get a date, he'll quickly disqualify himself in the eyes of every young woman on the campus.

I know this is a bad analogy--and no, Mr. Smarty Pants, this isn't some thinly veiled piece of autobiography. Billy Bob and his strategy are totally hypothetical. I promise--But it is not dissimilar to the way Christians have approached sharing their faith. For years, we've learned witnessing methods that embrace the cold-call sales approach..."Give me five minutes, and I'll change your eternity!" Of course, most of us don't feel comfortable with that style. And in recent years, most unbelievers don't respond well, either. Some might say, "But what does it hurt to ask? Even if we're rejected every time, haven't we done the right thing?" Well, just ask Billy Bob. Like him, if we approach unbelievers without respecting them, without understanding that we have to gain their trust and understand their viewpoint before we can hope to persuade them to change their lives, then we won't just be rejected. We'll innoculate them and everyone they know against the Gospel.

In our current series, "How to Win Your Friends...Naturally," we're talking about biblical ways to share our faith without feeling like a phony...and without turning off the very people Jesus wants to save. This week, we'll look at how Paul approached a very skeptical, intellectual crowd at Athens in Acts 17.

Faith in Action Projects!!!

Well, it's finally here: The list of projects that our church will be participating in for Faith in Action Day. Feel free to contact me for any additional information you need. You can sign up for any of these projects on our website main page, or in Bible study departments, or in the narthex as you come to worship service.

Home repair project

We will help some of our neighbors with light household repairs. For more information, contact Paul or Becky Brown.

Water bottle handout

The Braes Bayou jogging trail is used by many people every day, especially on the weekends. Join us as we hand out cold WBC water bottles to those folks out exercising on a Sunday morning. For more info, contact Randy Mitchell at 713.723.6428 or randymitchell@wbchouston.org.

Door-to-door prayer

We will go door-to-door, asking our neighbors how we can pray for them. For more information, contact: Jeff Berger, 713-723-6428. jeffberger@wbchouston.org or Ruth Escamilla, 713-272-9881. ruth.escamilla@sbcglobal.net

McNamara Elementary beautification

We will do another workday at our adopted school, McNamara Elementary. Both landscaping and interior beautification is needed. For more information, contact Ron Routzon or Hope McNeil.

Women’s Pregnancy Center gift baskets

Volunteers will collect and assemble items for gift baskets to be given to expectant mothers in need through the Women’s Pregnancy Center. For more information, contact Susan Nutter or Gale Yandell.

Braes Interfaith Ministries

Volunteers will help BIM with their food and clothing ministry to the disadvantaged. Please note: This project is limited to 8-12 people. For more information, see Kelly Senter, Ruth Simons and Becky Brown.

Volunteering at The Beacon

The Beacon ministers to the homeless and displaced. They need plenty of volunteers on a Sunday! For more information, contact Steve and Sherry Adell or Stephen Ray.

Clean up Westbury Square

Join us as we do some clean-up, gardening, and minor repair in and around this Westbury area icon. It will be a great morning to help improve the looks of our community. For more info, contact Randy Mitchell at 713.723.6428 or randymitchell@wbchouston.org

Worship at nursing/retirement homes

Ministry teams will lead and assist with worship services at local nursing or retirement centers. For more information, contact Kyle Damron.

Prayer meeting in WBC sanctuary

We will hold a prayer meeting in the WBC sanctuary at 10:30 AM on Faith in Action Day. This will give our ongoing ministry projects prayer support, and will be there to greet any visitors who come to our church unaware of Faith in Action Day. For more information, contact Jeff Berger.

Prepare lunch for Faith in Action Day
At noon on October 11, we will gather in the gym to eat lunch and share stories of what God has done through our ministries. We need 10 volunteers to assist Karen Mitchell in preparing the meal. If you would like to be part of this important ministry, contact Karen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How To Win Your Friends...Naturally

Today, I watched something remarkable on Youtube. I've included a link to the clip below, and I hope you can spare five minutes to watch this. But first, a little background. Penn Gillette is a member of the comedic duo of magicians known as Penn and Teller. If you're familiar with their act, he's the big guy who talks, as opposed to the little guy who doesn't. Gillette is also an outspoken atheist. In his video blog, "Penn Says," he shares the story of a man who recently gave him a Bible after watching his act. The link above is that blog post, in which he professes great admiration for the man, who he calls "A good, good man," and the way in which this man (apparently a Gideon) shared his faith. But he goes further than that, and this is the remarkable part of the video:

"If you believe in God and Heaven and Hell, and are afraid to talk about it because of social awkwardness...how much do you have to hate someone to NOT prosletyze? If you believe that eternal life is real, how could you not try to convince people. If I thought a truck was about to hit you, I'd push you out of the way, and this is MUCH more important than that..." (These aren't direct quotes, but as close as I can come after watching the clip twice)

Gillette reaffirms his belief that there is no God and says, "One polite person is not enough to change that for me." But as an atheist, his logic is impeccable: If we as Christians don't share our faith with those who don't believe, either we don't truly believe this stuff, or we don't care about our non-Christian friends. Ouch!

Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JHS8adO3hM NOTE: Gillette usually uses some pretty raw words in his act, so there is an "adult language" disclaimer at the beginning of the clip. However, I didn't hear anything objectionable in this particular segment.
It makes us think, doesn't it? It shows the kind of impression we can make on even the most skeptical person if we approach them with integrity, humility and a loving spirit. It also presents us with a tough question: If we believe the Gospel and we love the lost, why don't we share our faith?

This Sunday, I'm beginning a sermon series called, "How to Win Your Friends...Naturally." That's also the name of the first sermon in the series, based on Peter's sermon in Acts 2:22-40. The big idea of this series is that while some people are comfortable with confrontation (like good ol' Peter), most of us would feel comfortable sharing our faith in some other way. Fortunately, Scripture shows us five other ways that people shared Christ. Full disclosure: I get this idea from Bill Hybels' book, Becoming a Contagious Christian. I highly recommend the book, but I won't be preaching from it. Instead, we'll look at six stories of people leading friends and neighbors to the Savior in a way that felt totally natural for them. I'll bet at least one of the methods will sound pretty natural to you, too. Pray for us during this series. It all leads up to Faith in Action Day, October 11. God is on the move in our church, making us more and more into a church that loves the world outside our walls.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Generation of Sarcasm

I like to post stuff on here that I find interesting and thought-provoking. Below, I cut-and-paste an article by Skye Jethani, pastor and contributor to Leadership Journal. As you can guess by his first name, Jethani is a young guy, and in this article, he discusses the way sarcasm has become the "language of choice" for his generation. Why is this? And should we as Christians be concerned about it? Take a moment to read this, if only because it does a good job of helping us see why today's young people seem to enjoy mocking what used to seem sacred.

Note: At the beginning of the article, Jethani mentions a Time Magazine survey questioning which newscaster is now "The Most Trusted Man in America," which ended with a very surprising result. It should be pointed out that the survey was online, with fewer than 10,000 participants, so it wasn't exactly scientific. That doesn't, however, detract from the quality of what he has to say. Enjoy, and I'd love to read your thoughts...

A poll conducted by Time has revealed that The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart is the most trusted news anchor in America. He beat Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson, and Katie Couric. Walter Cronkite, having just entered his grave, must already be turning over in it. Stewart won with 44 percent of the vote. Brian Williams came in a distant second with 29 percent. See the results here.

Like many others of my generation, I enjoy The Daily Show. I find Jon Stewart to be intelligent and his irreverence is often refreshing, if occasionally too snarky or foul for my palate. Still, I wonder what it says about my generation when we vote someone like Stewart to be the most trusted voice in American news—especially when The Daily Show makes no claim of being a reputable journalistic enterprise.

When Stewart appeared on CNN’s Crossfire in 2004, an argument ensued with Tucker Carlson about The Daily Show’s lack of journalistic rigor. Stewart responded, “I didn’t realize that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their queues on integrity…. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls. What is wrong with you?”

Indeed—what is wrong with us?

The popularity of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The Onion reveals a core value of my generation. We thrive on sarcasm. It is our native tongue. Listen to a group of under 40s engaging in casual conversation. It’s nearly impossible for 30 seconds to elapse without a quip, a dig, or a dose of eye-rolling hyperbole. We especially like to cut down authorities—as Jon Stewart has perfected with his witty jabs at the mainstream news media and government leaders.

Sarcasm and irreverence are so popular that government officials clamor to get on The Daily Show to be mocked. They think they’ll be perceived as “good sports” for playing along, and somehow win the elusive support of sarcasm-soaked 18-35 year olds. (Silly politicians, has Rudy Giuliani’s SNL appearance in drag taught you nothing?) But they’re not alone. I have no quantifiable evidence, but my perception has been that more sarcasm is creeping into the church. I experience it more often at ministry conferences, in conversations with other church leaders, and without question on blogs. (Uh hum, are you listening, Url?)

My concern is not political integrity, the erosion of journalism in favor of amusement, or even ministry. My question is spiritual. Where does this deep reservoir of sarcasm come from? Why does it mark my generation the way a strong work ethic once marked the Greatest Generation or the way free-thinking branded the Boomers?

Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales, gave a speech at Yale back in 2005 in which he unpacked the media values of our generation—the slow descent from our parents’ “dry, cocktail party wit of Johnny Carson,” to the “sarcasm and twisted humor” of David Letterman, and the emergence of the bottom-feeder humor that is “Beavis & Butthead” and “South Park.” In these shows, Vischer says, “we had found our voice. We were safe from the world, as long as everything was treated as a joke.” He continues:

Some folks believe Vietnam was the source of America’s modern cynicism. Others point to Watergate. But for me and for many others in my generation, the real root, I think, is much closer to home and much more personal. When we were very young, our parents broke their promises. Their promises to each other, and their promises to us. And millions of American kids in a very short period of time learned that the world isn’t a safe place; that there isn’t anyone who won’t let you down; that their hearts were much too fragile to leave exposed. And sarcasm, as CS Lewis put it, “builds up around a man the finest armor-plating… that I know.”

I agree with Vischer. I think the sarcasm of my generation is rooted in anger and fear. It is a socially acceptable defense mechanism; a way to vent the mountain of anger and fear we feel in a dangerous world where even the structures God has ordained for our safety (family, church, government) have failed to keep their promises.

We are the first generation born after the passage of no-fault-divorce. We are the product of broken homes.

We are the first generation born after Vietnam and Watergate. We are the product of a broken government.

We are the first generation born in the age of Consumer Christianity. We are the product of broken churches.

With no where to turn for safety, our fears ferment under the surface into anger. But this toxic brew cannot stay there. It must find a release. Some of us find very destructive ways to alleviate that pressure. The rest of us let it out by mocking things previous generations took seriously—government, work, family, relationships, leaders, and the future. We are a generation that believes nothing is sacred. And if nothing is sacred, everything becomes profane.

I’ve been much more aware of my own sarcasm lately. I’ve tried to keep it under control—especially in my preaching. (Have you noticed the way sarcasm laces even the sermons of our generation?) And I’m trying to be more reflective about where it’s coming from. Is it merely casual banter, or is there an angry truth, a hidden fear, behind that one-liner?

I don’t want to be a killjoy. I don’t believe all sarcasm is bad, and we even see biblical prophets and apostles using the rhetorical device from time to time. But given the latent anger and fear in our culture, is more sarcasm really helpful in the church? Or should we be doing more to unearth the fears and angers of our generation so that sarcasm might be pulled from our souls roots and all?

A few months ago I had the opportunity to interview Matt Chandler for a piece in the current issue of Leadership. He said something about spiritual growth that I won’t soon forget:
“We want our people to think beyond simply what’s right and wrong. We want them to fill their lives with the things that stir affections for Jesus Christ and, as best as they can, to walk away from things that rob those affections—even when they’re not immoral.”

A heavy diet of sarcasm, whether on television, the web, or even in church, may be what this generation is clamoring for, and it's not immoral, but it may also be robbing our affections for Christ. Rather then emulating the popularity of Jon Stewart, as leaders of the church let’s take up our spiritual calling to guide souls toward love rather than just levity.

As preachers of the Word, let’s put aside our impulse to be entertainers and heed our calling to nurture minds that dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, and whatever is commendable.”
As shepherds of God’s flock, let’s lead the effort to drain the stagnant reservoir of fear and anger that is polluting our generation by starting with the swamp in our own souls. And let’s pray for Living Waters to flow in the church once again.

To read the article at its original source, go to: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2009/08/generation_of_s.html

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Bad Boy: The Story of Jephthah

This week, our series called, "We Can Be Heroes" concludes with the story of Jephthah. He's probably the least known of the heroes we've studied, and his is the only story of the six that has a tragic ending. Jephthah experienced tragedy not because of willful rebellion against God or flaws in his character, but because he underestimated the amazing grace of God. Ironic, isn't it? When we think of God's people bringing disaster upon themselves, we think of it in terms of "gross moral failure." For example, a pastor cheats on his wife, ending his marriage and his ministry. A Christian executive gives in to greed, engaging in shady business dealings in order to enrich himself, only to be exposed and imprisoned. A Christian parent fails to deal with her explosive temper, and ends up emotionally harming her own children. Yet perhaps the greatest failing of Christians, the most destructive tendency in the church, is our failure to understand God's grace.

In my opinion, the most effective lie the Devil spreads in our culture today is NOT the lie that says there is no God. Nearly everyone knows that God is real, even if they don’t know who He is. Satan’s most effective lie is, “You’re not good enough for God.” I see it often when I invite people to church. They say things like, “Well, I have a lot of things I need to get right first.” They assume that Jesus is for people who have their act together. In Mark 2, we read the story of Jesus eating at a dinner party with a group of notorious sinners. The religious leaders came to the dinner, too, and they looked at those sinners as if to say, “You don’t belong here, boy.” But Jesus said, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Church isn’t a club for the spiritually healthy, it’s a hospital for the spiritually sick. Jesus isn’t looking for people who are perfect, He’s looking for people who are lost and desperate for change in their lives. That’s why in the Old Testament, He chose people like Leah, Rahab and Gideon. It’s why in this story He chose an outlaw to lead His people to victory. He didn’t tell Jephthah, “Get your act together, and then we’ll talk.” He said, “Give your life to me, and see what I can do with you.” It’s called grace, the unmerited favor of God, and it’s one of my favorite things about God. But some people can’t accept grace. They think they have to do something extra to be acceptable to God. They assume He plays by the world’s rules. Unfortunately, Jephthah was one of those people.

I hope you'll be there this Sunday. Jephthah's story is fascinating, even if it is sad. Please pray that God would bring many people to the service who don't feel worthy of God...and that He would give them ears to hear about His amazing grace.

Jim Denison--Worried About Your Swiss Account?

The following is from Jim Denison's daily email, "God Issues." Jim was born here in Houston, and some of our members know him personally. For many years, he was pastor of Park Cities Baptist in Dallas. He resigned last year to become Theologian in Residence for the BGCT, and to start a new ministry venture, The Center for Informed Faith. His daily email looks at current events with a biblical--and often humorous--view, helping Christians know how to respond to the world around us in a Christ-like way. I thought today's email was especially helpful, so I have reproduced it below. If you like what you see and would like to subscribe, go visit his website at GodIssues.org. Here's what Jim had to say today:

One of Switzerland's largest banks has agreed to turn over information on American clients suspected by the IRS of tax evasion, according to today's New York Times. At first I was worried about the secrecy of my Swiss bank account, then I remembered that I don't have one. I read that the IRS is interested only in the biggest accounts, and remembered that I don't have one of those, either. I'm not sure how much our account contains, since Janet is the banker in our family. But I'm pretty sure it's less than the hundreds of millions of dollars in the accounts which the IRS is investigating.

However, while the IRS doesn't seem interested in my net worth, I am. The cares and worries of the world are with us all. The good news is that God has a health care plan for our souls. This week Jesus has taught us to fast periodically, abstaining from the physical for the sake of the spiritual. We each need time away from the distractions and duties of our daily lives.
Now, what do we do when we make this time to be still with God? Here we need a second spiritual discipline: the ancient art of meditation.

Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, tells of a time when he nearly "crashed." He was watching the physical gauge on his personal dashboard, eating and exercising, and all was well. He was watching the spiritual gauge, spending time in prayer and Bible study, and all was well. But he wasn't watching the emotional gauge which records our souls, our inner selves, and had to experience depression and come near to burn out before he realized the problem. The same can happen to any of us.

Biblical meditation is very different from Eastern mysticism, with its focus on our inner selves. Biblical meditation focuses the mind and spirit specifically on God. There are three methods which can help.

First, meditate on God's word. Find one verse or a small passage, and focus your heart and soul on it. Put all your senses into it—see it, hear it, smell it, feel it. Dwell in it with God, asking his Spirit to speak from his word to your spirit.

Second, meditate on God's creation. Find just one thing God has made and study it. I remember studying a leaf one day, amazed at its intricacy, detail, and design. If God devoted such attention to a leaf, how much more has he been engaged in the details of my life?

Third, meditate on a life issue or world event. Consider a problem for which you need God's help, or a good thing which has happened to you. Ask God to give you his mind on the subject, and listen for the prompting and insight of his Spirit in your heart.Make time for your soul to meditate on God's word and creation, your life, your world, and God will give you his power and the tranquility of his presence. When was the last time you gave the Holy Spirit an opportunity to speak in these ways to your soul? When will be the next? Let's finish our series tomorrow.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Mule: The Story of Jonah

We love to root for the underdog. It's why movies like Rocky become enduring classics, why the 1980 US Olympic hockey team is memorable even to people (like me) who don't like hockey. I have enjoyed preaching this current sermon series, We Can Be Heroes, because I love those stories of underdogs God chose in Scripture to do outstanding things. I love reading about an overlooked wife (Leah) who God preferred over her more desirable sister; about a pagan prostitute (Rahab) who became an Israelite hero; about an feisty old geezer (Caleb) who showed a younger generation how to trust in God; and about a jittery weakling (Gideon) who became a triumphant warrior. Such stories inspire us to believe that God sees in us the qualities the world seems to have missed...and that we ourselves may even have been unaware of.

But what about when our misfortune is not a matter of genetics, poor social environment, or bad luck? What about when we're down and out because of our own foolish decisions? In other words, does God choose sinners, too? If you know anything about Jesus, you know the answer to that story. This Sunday, we'll look at perhaps the most stubborn man who ever lived, and the God whose stubbornness was even greater. Jonah's story is familiar to many of us, but there's a lot more to it than "some guy who got swallowed by a whale." Come see what I mean--and see what a stubbornly gracious God we serve--this Sunday.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Parent's Number One Job

A few years ago, a new family began attending my previous church. Dad rarely came, but the mother and her three daughters (blond hair, big blue eyes) were there consistently. I had a chance to visit with the oldest girl after Vacation Bible School that year. She had made a commitment to Christ during VBS, and I found her to be entirely sincere in her desire to follow Jesus. I baptized her soon after, and even old Dad showed up for that! But then I started noticing I hadn't seen the family in a while. Finally, I happened to bump into the Mom somewhere and asked how they were doing. I can't ask that question without people assuming I mean, "Why haven't you been in church lately?" (It's an occupational curse) She apologized profusely for dropping out of church, but explained that her oldest daughter was in a softball league that frequently held games out of town on Sundays. "She's a really great pitcher. Her coach thinks she could get a college scholarship someday. So I feel like we need to let her chase that dream as long as we can."

She was eight years old, by the way.

While I saw them sporadically after that, they never again came on a weekly basis. I didn't get to baptize any of the other kids, nor nurture that oldest daughter's brand-new faith, nor reach out to the dad. Frankly, it still bugs me today. A large part of me wishes I had tried harder to reach them. Another large part wishes I had said something to her about an important and--I believe--unfortunate decision she and her husband had made as parents.

I know it's a dangerous thing to tell someone how to raise their kids. Every day that I'm a father, I see the numerous ways I fall short of the ideal in that important task. So I DON'T speak as some sort of self-appointed expert in parenting. But I believe God's Word is clear: Our number one job as parents is to do all that we can do to lead our kids to Christ. We cannot choose faith for our children. But we can do numerous things to make that decision likely. We can:
--Bring them to church, Sunday School and other spiritual activities.
--Teach them Bible stories at home and pray with them.
--Live out an example of authentic faith.
--Discipline them in accordance to biblical principles.
--Pray daily for their spiritual well-being.

God had a purpose for our kids when He created them, and no one on earth will have more of an impact--for good or bad--on whether they experience His love and live out His purpose than we (their parents) will.

To the Jews of Jesus' day, Deuteronomy 6:4 was the most important verse in the Torah. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." It was the verse they said everyday, that they bound to their doorposts and wrists. That passage goes on to say, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." God's plan for Israel was that the parents would teach the children to follow Him. This wasn't supposed to be complicated; Just talk about God when you're going through day to day life with your kids. Mention Him when you walk, when you lay down, and when you get up. That was always God's plan...and still is.

You know by now how much I love sports. And kids' sports are great. But when our child's recreational activities regularly interfere with the life of our church family, the choice we make at that point teaches our child what is truly important in life. The vast majority of young athletes will never get an athletic scholarship. Of those lucky few, only a tiny percentage will play pro ball. Yet even if one our kids is part of that exalted group, is important enough to justify him missing out on active participation in the Body of Christ? If you'll pardon me for paraphrasing our Lord's words, what does it profit a kid if he has a major-league curveball but loses his soul?

I know that kids are busy with more than sports. Schoolwork is more and more time-consuming than ever before. Yet we manage to get our kids to their other responsibilities on time. Couldn't we--shouldn't we--"crack the whip" to make sure they have their homework done in time to be present at Wednesday Night Live? Shouldn't we budget so they can attend preteen camp? Isn't it worth our while to make sure they get enough rest on a Saturday night to make it to Sunday School the next day?

One more thing: I know it's conventional wisdom to say, "I hear too many stories about kids who were forced to go to church, and then hated God for it later. I want my kids to choose faith on their own." I understand that perspective. Certainly once a child is a teenager, it's hard to make them go somewhere they don't want to go. And if he or she truly doesn't want to go to church, to youth or children's activities, come talk to us. Maybe we need to change the way we do certain things. At the very least, maybe we can help you. But let's address the issue of "forcing" our faith on our kids. As parents, one of the toughest parts of our job is to decide when to let our kids "be themselves." We may decide that a funky hairstyle is no big deal, but if they start doing something truly dangerous, we have no qualms about being heavy-handed. For instance, if our child were hanging out with drug-dealing gang members, we'd certainly "force" our values on them. Here's my point: If we truly believe Jesus is who He said He is, then following Him is the most important decision any of us can make. We owe it to our kids to do everything we can to help them know Christ and His purpose for their lives. Their childhood and teen years are such an important window of opportunity for them to establish a real relationship with Christ. Can you think of anything that should be more important to us as parents?

I can't.

Faith in Action Day

NOTE: This article will also run in the September issue of The Westbury Word, our print newsletter. If you don't currently receive the Word and would like to, please call our office at 713-723-6428.

On Saturday, October 17, 1998, a huge rainstorm caused devastating flooding along the Guadalupe River in South Central Texas. Towns like New Braunfels, Seguin, Victoria, and Cuero experienced incredible amounts of damage to homes and businesses. At the time, I was pastor of First Baptist Church in Stockdale. Although our town was far enough away from the river to escape the flooding, we all knew people who had lost everything. The next morning, we had church as usual. The floods were mentioned and prayed about in our Sunday School classes. I may have mentioned the subject before my sermon…I don’t really remember. But that was about it.

A little while later, I had a conversation with an old friend. Bob had been my Sunday School teacher in my teen years, and was still my insurance agent. He said, “I think it’s a shame that churches had worship on October 18. We should have cancelled services all around this area so we could help our neighbors drag their wet carpet and furniture out of their houses, and help them find places to stay.” He was right. We missed a great opportunity that day. We could’ve shown our un-churched neighbors that Jesus cares about them. Instead, we gave the impression that Jesus hides in a church building when things get tough. Of course, that wasn’t our intention…we were just doing what we’d always done on a Sunday morning.

In a way, that’s the point behind Faith in Action Day, October 11. We’ll be cancelling worship and Sunday School that day so that we can all be involved in ministry in our community. Our website has a section dedicated to this, or you can call the church office to learn more. For years, Christians have operated under the assumption that if we built a nice building, hired a good preacher, and had good programs, people would come flooding in. If that approach ever worked, it doesn’t work anymore. We can’t expect people to come to us. We must go to them. My prayer for Faith in Action Day is that we would show our friends and neighbors the love of Christ in a way they can truly feel, and that we would learn that we can’t just go to church…we must BE the Church. I hope and pray that it becomes so much a part of our church’s mentality, our ministry DNA, that whenever tragedy or hardship strikes our community, we are the first to respond. That’s the way Christ would want us to be. Please pray for this event, and prayerfully decide soon which ministry opportunity you and your family will participate in on October 11.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

We Can Be Heroes: The Chicken

Do you remember Don Knotts? If you're my age or older, the answer is a definite yes, I'm sure. Skinny and bug-eyed, Don Knotts was never meant to be a leading man. But he made a great career out of playing a character that was always scared out of his wits. Incidentally, I learned this week that there is an urban legend that says Knotts was a drill sargeant during World War II! This goes along with the legends that say Mr. Rogers was a sniper in Vietnam, and that Captain Kangaroo was a hero at Iwo Jima...none of them are true. But it's amazing the kinds of things people believe, just because they read them on an email!

This week, we're studying the story of Gideon, one of the great heroes of the Old Testament. Gideon led the greatest upset victory in military history, and brought liberation (and more importantly, revival) to Israel against incredible odds. He took on a vast, fierce coalition of armies with only 300 men...armed only with trumpets, jars and torches. Yet when we read the story of Gideon in Judges 6-7, it sounds like Don Knotts would be the perfect choice to play Gideon in a movie about his life. In fact, I almost titled my sermon, "The Lord and Mr. Chicken" (after Don Knotts' movie, "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken"), but I decided to stick with the titular theme.

I find all of that comforting, since frankly I'm a lot more Don Knotts than John Wayne myself. God can use people who are less than confident...in fact, He tends to turn our weaknesses and insecurities into a strength. I hope I see you there, and that you find the message inspirational, but here's a warning: Prepare to discard all your comfortable excuses for why God could NEVER use you.

A Note About Generations in Churches

I got a lot of great feedback from last Sunday's sermon. I suspect that's for several reasons: One, you've heard (just as I have) too many horror stories about pastors coming into established churches and alienating all of the older members in their efforts to reach young people. Two, it seems to me that most of you like the idea of different generations blending as often as possible in the church. I know it's easier NOT to do it that way. People by nature like to hang out with their own kind (that includes racially, too, which is a topic for a whole other blog post). But older, younger, and middle adults and children can learn so much from one another. This is one of the reasons I am looking forward to Faith in Action Day (October 11). We will get a chance to work alongside people we don't ordinarily spend time with...as we reach out to our community.

Anyhow, if this topic interests you, I wanted to recommend a book. We as a staff right now are reading Who Stole My Church, by Gordon MacDonald. It's written as a fictional account of a church in New England. The "new" pastor has run into some stiff opposition from long-time members over the changes he is making in the church in order to reach younger generations. So the pastor begins meeting with a small group of these older folks to hear their perspective and to come to an understanding of what church is supposed to be.

Frankly, my first reaction when reading the book was, "Thank God we're not as messed up as that church!" But it spoke much more deeply than that. For people who wonder why it's so hard to change things in a church, this book paints an effective picture of people who really feel that something precious is being stolen from them. For people who wonder why things have to change, this book does a good job of showing the need to reach new generations in new ways without changing the message. For all of us, it gives a hopeful story of how a church really could become effective at reaching younger people without alienating older generations. If you get a chance to read it, make sure and tell me what you think.

Friday, July 24, 2009

We Can Be Heroes: The Geezer

The Chronicle's "Star" section has a joke every day. Most of the time, the jokes are pretty lame--even by preacher standards. But one this past week made me smile. "Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician." It reminded me of Tommy Nelson's comment at the start of his famous "Song of Solomon" presentation. He would ask all the engaged and newlywed couples to take a good long look at their beloved. Then he would say, "Enjoy that. That's the best he or she is ever going to look!"

Point taken. As much as we may want to fight it, old age is coming for all of us. Father time is still undefeated. The only way to keep from getting old is to die young. But maybe, just maybe, old age isn't as bad as we make it out to be. Maybe, just maybe, God can do things in our lives when we're "over the hill" that He won't do for us when we're young, vain and arrogant. This Sunday, as we continue to look at God's unlikely heroes, we'll study the story of a feisty old geezer named Caleb. I promise it'll make you smile...and might just put some fire in your bones for the Kingdom of God, no matter what your age.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

We Can Be Heroes: The Not-So-Pretty Woman

Comedian Joan Rivers, 72, has had a number of cosmetic surgeries over the years. Since 1965 she's had bags removed from under her eyes, two complete face-lifts, cheek implants, fat injections, brow smoothing, teeth capping, neck tightening, a tummy tuck, and a nose-thinning. Regarding her obsession with her appearance, she said, "When you look better, you are treated differently. …People want to be around attractive people."

Rivers' vanity isn't without self-reflection. She's made an entire comic career out of making fun of her obsession with appearance; in a recent commercial for GEICO, she cracks, "My face has seen more knives than a Benihana." Later in the same spot, she frantically asks her onscreen partner, "Am I smiling, Steve? I can't feel my face."

Physical beauty is nice, but fleeting. Denton Bible Church pastor Tommy Nelson, in his famous series of messages on the Song of Solomon, used to ask engaged couples to take a look at one another. Then he would say, "Enjoy that. That's as good as he or she is ever going to look. It all goes down hill from here." His point, of course, was that if we marry for physical beauty alone, we're building on a house of sand.

I'm not preaching about marriage or self-esteem in this current series, "We Can Be Heroes." But I am talking about how we need to look more deeply at ourselves and our neighbors. We tend to judge people strictly on superficial issues, but God deliberately chooses people who are unimpressive on the surface to do His most outstanding work. Last week we saw how He lasered in on Leah, the forgotten spouse in a dysfunctional family, for His special attention. This week, we'll take a look at an even more unlikely hero: A pagan prostitute from a doomed city, who we know as Rahab. I hope I see you there. And hopefully, we'll all begin to see people a little differently.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Great Name

A few weeks ago, I received a wonderful gift from one of our members: The annual summer edition of Dave Campbell's Texas Football Magazine. Our own David Barron has been writing articles for this great publication for years, and it made my day when I saw he had left a copy on my desk. I know, football is still a month away, but that's the point: This great magazine helps get me through the long, hot days of summer. One of my favorite things to do is look through the High School section to see some of the great mascot names throughout our state. For this month's column, I have selected the ten most unusual mascot names in Texas--with my comments.

Honorable mention: Port Lavaca Calhoun Sandcrabs, Fort Worth Poly Parrotts, Progreso Red Ants, Hamlin Pied Pipers. Don’t they sound intimidating?

10. Springtown Porcupines—The team’s looking sharp so far.

9. Rotan Yellowhammers--?????

8. Itasca Wampus Cats—Sounds like a great name for a country-western band.

7. Happy Cowboys—At least they sound cheerful.

6. Winters Blizzards—They play their home games at the Dairy Queen.

5. Roscoe Plowboys—Shazaam! Them Plowboys is playin’ good, ain’t they, Bubba?

4. Mesquite Skeeters—They’re tough, but no match for a can of Off.

3. Trent Gorillas—Ugliest cheerleaders in the state.

2. Hutto Hippos—All games at home; no bus strong enough to carry team.

1. Cuero Gobblers—My home team’s arch-rivals. Stinkin’ turkeys.

Here at Westbury, we're proud of our name. It means we want to be the Body of Christ in our neighborhood (Westbury and the surrounding areas), and that we follow in a line of outstanding faith, Biblical preaching, and evangelistic activity (Baptist). We're proud also of our slogan: "Opening Doors to New Life." It reminds us that we exist to help people find new life through worship (loving God), community (loving each other) and outreach (loving the world). But the best name we bear is the name of Christ. As Christians, we represent a team with the best name of all. The word Christian literally means“little Christ.” That name reminds us of how proud God is to have us on His team, but also of the great expectations He has for our lives. So discipline yourself, pray hard, and run to win (1 Corinthians 9:24), knowing that you’re on the best team of all!

We Can Be Heroes!

I love being a pastor. When I preach the Word, I know why God made me. It is a wonderful thing to love doing what you do for a living. But my favorite sermons are the ones based on the stories of the Bible. This Sunday (July 12), I'll begin a series of messages I'm calling "We Can Be Heroes." I must give credit to my daughter Kayleigh for drawing the logo you see above (and I suppose I should credit David Bowie for the series title, since that was one of his songs way back when...though I doubt he'll hear about this).
Here's the premise: All through the Bible, God uses the most marginal people to do His most spectacular work. He calls on a fugitive in his 80s to face Pharaoh, king of the most powerful nation on the Earth, and lead His people to freedom. He chooses a little shepherd boy to defeat a ten-foot-tall giant. He summons a former demoniac woman to be the first witness of His resurrection, and a loudmouth fisherman to be the leader of His first congregation. Yet somehow, we have missed that message. We seem to think today that God does His work through the beautiful and talented (converted beauty queens and athletes), the powerful (self-proclaimed Christian politicians), and the seminary-trained (preachers like yours truly). Yet if His word is any indication of His tendencies (and I think it is), He's much more likely to do BIG things through unlikely people.
In this series, we'll look at six lesser known stories that prove that point:
July 12 The Dysfunctional Family (The story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah). God can use even people from messed-up backgrounds.

July 19 The Not-So-Pretty Woman (The Story of Rahab, Joshua 2). God can use even people with a terrible past, and some rough edges in the present.

July 26 The Geezer (The Story of Caleb) God can use anyone, no matter their age.
August 2 The Chicken (The Story of Gideon). God can even use cowards.
August 9 The Mule (The Story of Jonah). God can even use people who disobey Him. He is relentless in chasing down His wayward children and accomplishing His will in spite of us.
August 16 we'll take a break from the series, as Mike Satterfield preaches on Disciple Now (Yes, THAT Mike Satterfield!).
Sunday August 23 The Bad Boy (The Story of Jephthah). God can use even people who society rejects. (Lord’s Supper service)

Shaking up a stuck-in-a-rut prayer life

I occasionally quote Joe McKeever here. He is the recently retired director of the Greater New Orleans Baptist Association, and a wonderful guy. I highly recommend his blog. Since I just finished a series on prayer, I wanted to leave you with some great advice from Joe as we move into our next series. These are ten tips on breaking out of a rut in one's prayer life. If you don't know what a rut is in prayer, either you are much more spiritual than I (quite possible) or you never pray! Here are Joe's tips...try 'em out sometime:

1. Get up and go for a walk while praying. Pray while vacuuming the floor or doing the dishes or chopping some wood.

2. Get a piece of paper and write out your prayer.

3. Call a good friend and ask him/her to pray with you (as well as for you) at that moment.

4. Pull a book on prayer off your library shelf and read a chapter or two. Usually, you'll get several ideas of how to enlarge and deepen and sharpen and vary your prayers.

5. Have the Book of Common Prayer handy. Open it to the section on general prayers and let the old masters show you how to pray.

6. Tell God a good story or a joke you heard and enjoyed. Ask if He's heard a good one lately.

7. Send up a prayer for the meanest person you know, the biggest celebrity, the current Hollywood rage, someone who is on the front of today's newspaper, and your next door neighbor.

8. Pray a "time-release" prayer for your children and grandchildren: for the choices they will make 10 years from now, 20 years, and beyond -- schools, spouses, jobs, churches, best friends, everything.

9. Ask the Lord to surprise you today with some blessing or opportunity you would never thought of asking for.

10. Read something in the Bible, then pray it. Read something else and pray it. Keep at it. (Be careful of the Psalms, however. You might be calling down plagues on your enemies!)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Prayer 101: How to Pray for Our Nation

How do you celebrate the 4th of July? In my family, we always attended a family reunion on the 4th. For me, the holiday is associated with seeing long-lost cousins and eating potluck. Others attend parades, concerts, or festivals. Still others grill in their backyard. I know a few people who spend the day in front of the History Channel or PBS, and others who go camping. Most of us will watch a fireworks show--either live or on TV--and many of us will make our own (though with this dry climate, you'd better be careful).

I wonder what our founding fathers would think of our Independence Day celebrations. I imagine it would be a mix of puzzlement ("What do fireworks, hot dogs, and rock music have to do with the signing of the Declaration of Independence? And what's a TV, anyway") and joy (after all, in their day, this little experiment in democracy was fragile indeed...they'd surely be glad to know the whole thing is still alive after two-and-three-quarters centuries). But--given the devout religious faith of at least some of our founding fathers, I imagine the sort of celebration they would most prefer would be a prayerful one. They of all people would know how quickly liberty can devolve into tyranny, and would hope that would jealousy and prayerfully guard our freedoms.

So how do we pray for our nation, anyway? Is it enough simply to ask, "God bless America?" Or should we pray more specifically? And if so, for what should we pray? We'll take a look this Sunday at how Psalm 46 answers that question. See you there, and try not to stay up too late on the fourth.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Prayer 101: Praying for Those Who Don't Know Christ

A church in another state did a very unusual experiment a few years ago. They randomly selected 80 names out of their local phone book and began to pray for these strangers. They also selected a random "control group:" 80 names that were laid aside, with no prayers lifted up on their behalf. After 90 days, church members called all 160 numbers, asking if someone from the church could come by and pray for them. The amazing result: Of the control group, only one person out of 80 was willing to receive a prayer visit. But of the group that had been previously prayed for, 69 of 80 agreed to a visit. 45 actually invited the visitors inside, offered coffee, and mentioned special prayer requests.

Intercessory prayer is notoriously difficult to measure scientifically, but it's hard to argue with those results. Paul Cedar, author of A Life of Prayer, once agreed to speak at a large evangelism conference on the topic, "Prayer As Evangelism." When he got up to speak, he noticed a typo on the program: It said, "Prayer Is Evangelism." Cedar decided that title was actually more correct than the one he had chosen.

So how often do you pray for specific non-Christians by name? What can we expect God to do when we pray that others would come to know Him? What can we do in order to pray for these people more effectively? That will be our topic this Sunday.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Worship Music Debate

My friend and favorite blogger, Joe McKeever, has retired as Director of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Fortunately for me and the rest of his internet flock, he's still preaching and blogging. He wrote this last week, and I thought you'd appreciate it. Keep in mind, when worship music is the subject, the argument usually divides along generational lines: Those over 50 or so prefer the old hymns and nothing but, while those under 50 want nothing but songs written in the last 15 years. But this is a balanced, BIBLICAL perspective from a man of retirement age...which makes it all the more refreshing...

Are They Still Debating Worship Music?

If so, I have a contribution. Going through old files and tossing out the accumulated notes of a near-lifetime of ministry, I came across this correspondence from June of 2000.

Jeff and Lisa wrote to me:

"We have enjoyed the fellowship and warm welcome we have received from the church. But, we are concerned about something that it seems is becoming more and more emphasized in the church services. It sets a tone for the rest of the service that dampens our spirit. We find it hard to concentrate on your message, and we both like hearing you preach. We're talking about the music."

"We do not think it is right to add a rock beat to hymns written to glorify God. For example, 'It is Well With My Soul' was played one Sunday with a rock beat. This was so offensive to us that we did not feel comfortable singing the hymn. We hate not participating during that part of the service but we feel that we are not truly worshiping God. We hope you will prayerfully consider this issue."

I wrote them back:

"Dear Jeff and Lisa:
"I'm glad you shared your concern with me about the music. I'm going to sit at my computer and try to put some thoughts down here. So, you'll understand I'm typing this myself and not blame the form on my secretary!

"We've had lots of discussion about the music in the church over the past year or two, because in almost every church in the land, the music is changing. A month ago Margaret and I attended a church in California 20 years old and running 15,000 in attendance. The music was a band that just about deafened me, and was not to my liking at all. The pastor said he counsels ministers to find the type of music suitable to their own community, and not to imitate what he was doing there. As the week went by--we were attending a conference--I found the music less and less objectionable. It never reached the point of being 'my kind of worship music,' but I certainly saw how it was being used of the Lord to bless hundreds all around me.

"What I decided (and I'm not the first, of course) is that the type of music we best worship to is not theological or even spiritual, but cultural. That is, our choices in church music are conditioned by the kind of music we grew up with, in church mainly, but to a certain degree, out of church, too. Recently we had an African children's choir here. They were wonderful, and their music was loud, swinging, with a heavy beat, and extremely emotional. Not my kind, but still infectious. And you could see the love of Christ in these people's faces. My conclusion: there is no one kind of music that is 'the Lord's' with all the rest being secular. The music the Lord leads His people to worship with is just as varied as His children are.

"Ken Gabrielse (our minister of music at the time, also chairman of the church music department at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; now leading the music department for Oklahoma Baptists) says that many of the hymns we love and grew up on were originally written to honky tonk tunes of the 1700s. Church leaders who had sung only from the book of Psalms resented Charles Wesley taking a song out of a dance hall and putting Christian words to it, and they condemned him heartily. The same with Isaac Watts who wrote songs like 'At the Cross' and 'We're Marching to Zion.' Today's standards were yesterday's rock songs!
"One of our members was at the First Baptist Church of a large Southern city recently. The pastor told him that only 20 years ago, the congregation would not allow a piano to be used in the service because it cheapened the worship. It had to be the organ or nothing. And yet, where in the Bible does one find an organ?

"It's interesting you mention 'It is Well With My Soul' because, while I don't recall the particular instance you refer to, I was in a congregation a few months back when the music was provided by a jazz band. It sounded weird and sure did not 'feel' like how I want to sing that song. I tried anyway, and frankly did not get much out of the singing. Incidentally, Dr. Gabrielse says we're not supposed to 'get' anything out of the singing; we're supposed to worship the Lord and He gets the praise. He says most of us are too narcissistic in how we worship: 'What can I get out of it?' Anyway, after that service, I heard two or three people comment on how that music had blessed them. So, I kept my mouth shut rather than pour cold water over what had been a great experience for them.

"My conclusions then, Jeff and Lisa, are: --that often the very thing that offends one person blesses another, --that music is so personal and individualistic that almost no two people like it the same way, --that the minister of music has a tough job trying to meet the needs of so many people with varying tastes and needs, and --that church music is never static, but like every other methodology in the church. The message never changes, but the methods are fluid and always adapting to where people are at the moment.

That's why Jesus made so much of the need for God's people to be new wineskins. A new wineskin believer is open and flexible, willing to try the new and not resistant to change. I'm 60 years old (note: that was 9 years ago!) and I have to fight this tendency every day to prefer things the way they have always been. But I know when I give in to that, something within me starts to dry up and wither and I become less and less available to the Holy Spirit.
"What I'd love to see you do is to decide that a) not all music in the worship service must be to my liking, so long as some of it is; b) I will worship and sing unto the Lord and not rate a song or sermon by 'what I got out of it,' and c) to pray for the Lord to lead in the choices of what we sing and how we do it.

"Not long ago a man came to me with the same concern you mentioned. The drums were too loud and interfered with his worship. He had decided to remain in the foyer until sermon time. If this did not work for him, he would find another church. Oddly enough, the next Sunday he loved the music and even found that the drums fit right in. He made a discovery that's worth mentioning here. He found out that in order for the worship leader and the musicians to get the right balance in the sound and beat and so on (I'm not a musician!), they had to experiment. By being patient and not critical, he found that they are making strides to improve. So, he's still in his place on Sunday and seems a lot more satisfied.

"I know I've not done a very good job of responding to your letter, but I hope you'll give me an A for effort. I will take it as a great act of Christian faithfulness and love if you will accept my suggestions above, and see how it all develops. If, after a few months, you still have the same concerns, let me know and we will talk further, even involving Ken in our discussions.
"Thank you. God bless you. I'm honored to be your pastor."

(My notes do not indicate how Jeff and Lisa responded. I don't actually remember them--they're no longer a part of our congregation--but am confident that over the intervening years as they have visited churches in other cities, they have long since gotten past these concerns and recognized them as temporary preferences, not lasting spiritual convictions.)

Joe's blog is found here: http://www.joemckeever.com/mt/archives/001179.html Just in case you'd like to comment to him.