Thursday, February 26, 2009

Be a Part of the Body: Revival of Responsibility

I played football in high school. I wasn't very big, or very fast, or...actually...very good. But I loved the game, so I played. We had several student managers on our team. They were guys who wanted to be involved in football, but for reasons of health, temperment or (like me) lack of talent, they didn't actually play. So they kept the water bottles full, hauled equipment, made sure there was ice in the coolers, etc. We liked these guys. A lot. One summer, one of our student managers went to a week-long camp to learn how to be a student trainer. They taught him how to tape up injured ankles, ice down contusions, and so forth. That next football season, this particular guy was nearly worthless. If we ran out of water and asked him to get us some, he'd say, "Not my job. I'm a trainer." Since a high school football team isn't exactly a MASH unit, he spent most of his time sitting around, nursing a cold soft drink while we sweated out our practices. We didn't like him. At all.

In a way, he reminds me of the Church. Jesus left us here to be His body. That means that we are supposed to do the things He did when He was here in the flesh. In fact, He promised us (astonishingly) that we would do even greater things than He did. How is that possible? Because there are millions of local churches worldwide. Each one has the DNA of Jesus in it, in the form of the Holy Spirit. That DNA enables us to accomplish His will, overcoming evil, transforming the world. Of course, that only happens if we love each other, and if each individual member uses his/her gifts to help the church accomplish her mission. That's what we've learned so far in our study of Romans 12-13. But this Sunday, in our last message in the series, we'll talk about our primary responsibility: To represent Christ before the world in such a way that everyone who meets us will be drawn to Him for salvation. Unfortunately, the way most churches function, one would get the impression that we say to Christ, "That's not my job. I'm comfortable being religious when I'm together with my Christian friends on Sundays. But I didn't sign on to be a missionary."

Simply put, we need a revival. But not the sort of "revival" most Christians think of when we use that term...a revival in which the culture conforms itself to our values, and so we become much more comfortable in the world. No, a real revival would be a revival of responsibility, in which we reclaim the yoke of Christ and start accomplishing His mission once again. In other words, a real revival changes us first...and then we change the culture. If you get a chance, take a look at Romans 13:8-14, and we'll apply it to our lives this Sunday.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My time at the Creative Church Conference

I'm at the Creative Church Conference in Grapevine, Tx. The crowd here skews a little younger than I'm used to...this is not your father's church conference, you might say. I'm seeing a lot of very creative hairstyles containing a whole lot of hair gel...and that's just the guys. But I digress...

I love going to conferences like these because they challenge me. It's not that I feel like I should try to emulate any of the dynamic, successful leaders who speak at these sorts of events, but I do gain new ideas, hear things from a different perspective. Often, I feel fed and inspired in a way that helps me go back to my ministry with a renewed spirit. Then again, sometimes I hear a certain speaker who just isn't my cup of decaf.

That was the case this morning. This guy is very well known and extremely successful, but I found myself critiquing him from the word go. It seemed to me that he was trying WAY too hard to be Jim Carrey, with impressions of famous people, joke after joke, and tons of hyperkinetic eneregy. Not that humor is bad--I just didn't see any depth in what he was saying. In fact, when he spoke the second time, I decided to just watch him as I would a stand-up comedian, and I enjoyed it a lot more. Some of the jokes fell flat, but that's okay, there was another one coming in thirty seconds or so.

And in the words of Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

But it got me thinking...once we hang around the Christian world for a while, we encounter preachers and churches we just don't approve of. I'm not talking about doctrine here...I'm talking about style. It may be a famous radio or TV ministry or author that everyone is crazy about...except you. Or it may be a church that is packing people in, and you cannot understand why. What should be our attitude toward this? I know the attitude I often have--the same one I had this morning--we begin critiquing them, and it sure does make us feel better.

BUT...we're on the same team, aren't we? I'm reminded of Paul, writing from prison late in his life. He was hearing reports that some of his former enemies within the church, people who had ruthlessly criticized his ministry, were now preaching in churches he had planted. They were in fact building on his foundation...and tearing down his reputation while they did it. In other words, Paul had real reasons to feel resentful toward these preachers. This wasn't just about style or jealousy. This was personal.

But here is what Paul wrote about such men in his letter to the Philippians (1:17):

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

What difference does it make whether I like a particular person's preaching style, or agree with them on some minor point? As long as we're leading people into the same Kingdom, I should be able to rejoice at their success and pray for their ministry. Even if they begin robbing people from my church (sheep-stealing is the biggest cxrime in religion today), I should not therefore consider them my enemy. I'm serving God, they are serving God, and He'll judge for Himself on that Day who did the job faithfully. Until then, He uses all of matter how true our motives or how "effective" our ministries. And that's reason to rejoice.

Be a Part of the Body: Rules of Engagement

I heard about an elementary school principal once who, when boys got into fights on the playground, would bring them into his office for a solution. Unlike with most principals of that day, they wouldn't get a stern lecture or quick justice from a wooden paddle (this was a long time ago). Instead, he would put boxing gloves on both boys and let them duke it out under his supervision. His philosophy, I suppose, was that boys will boys, and so fights will happen...but it was his job to make sure they happened in a fair way, and that no one got seriously hurt.

Obviously, school administrators couldn't do that today, but it makes sense in a way, doesn't it?

In adult life as well, fights sometimes happen. We are sinful, prideful, stubborn creatures, and we do often disagree. Sometimes our disagreements spill over into ugliness. That is true even in the Church, where we may be redeemed, but we're not totally sanctified. Rather than keep such hostilities under wraps, unity demands that we confront them...and that we learn how to fight fair. The goal should always be truth and unity, bound up in love. How do we fight in a such a way that God's name is glorified and His family is unified, even in our disagreements? That's the topic of this week's message from Romans 12:17-21. See you Sunday, and until then, no biting, no gouging, no rabbit punches...well, you get the picture.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Be a Part of the Body: The Enemy Within

It was a warm, peaceful, loving church. Our business meetings usually lasted 30 minutes at the most. There were some disagreements at times, a few "parking lot business meetings" when small groups disagreed with decisions that were made. And of course, there were those people in the group who just didn't like each other. But they avoided each other and kept the peace. But on this night, something ugly bubbled to the surface.

It was really just an interpersonal conflict. A mother thought that one of our children's programs wasn't as effective as it ought to be. Rather than go personally to the man who led the program, she chose to bring up her concerns in the open forum of our business meeting. Soon, she was venting her frustrations in a way that was very hurtful to this faithful man, who was present that night. Others were standing up to defend their friend and counterattack this woman who had defamed him. I as pastor and moderator of the meeting should have put a stop to this (Oh, how I wish I could go back in a time machine and respond differently) but the whole thing was so unexpected, so out of character, I just stood there, dumbstruck as my church members bickered back and forth.

It was over fairly quickly. Since this mother's issues with the program were merely a matter of leadership style and personal preference, we didn't make any changes. I thought that was that. Then a few days later, while attending a high school baseball game in town, a man who wasn't part of our church approached me with a smirk and said, "I heard y'all had a hum-dinger of a fight at church the other night."


No one had ever commented to me about the number of new believers we were baptizing, nor the new mission work we were doing in an impoverished nearby community, nor the dozens of peaceful meetings we had every year. But when we had an ugly spat, everyone suddenly knew. And everyone in town, apparently, was talking about it.

Here at WBC, we believe a great church does three things well: We love God through true, heartfelt worship. We love people outside the church through outreach ministries. But third and equally important: We love each other through establishing true community. For much of my ministry career, I thought that just meant keeping the peace. But the world doesn't need to see churches that just smooth over their conflicts. It needs to see people who truly love one another. That's what God expects of us.

This Sunday, we'll continue our look at what God expects from each of us as members of His body, the local church. In Romans 12:9-16, He shows us how to build true community, how to defeat the Enemy Within--those ugly conflicts that would seek to tear us apart and render us ineffective in the world.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Coming Soon: Heaven!

Don Piper, author of the bestselling 90 Minutes In Heaven, will be speaking at WBC April 3 at 7:00 PM. This event is being co-sponsored by WBC and by Houston Area Baptist Student Ministries. All proceeds from the love offering will got to benefit student work in Houston. This is a great event to invite friends from outside the church. So we’ve designed an e-invitation for you to use. You can find it on our website under “Media and Forms.” Click on “E-invitations.”

That event will be smack in the middle of a sermon series I’m planning called “The Truth About Heaven.” We’re working on designing something you can use to invite friends to this series, including all the sermon titles (Including, “Myths About Heaven” “What is Heaven?” “What Happens to us When We Die?” and several others). We’ll get those “hard copy” invitations to you as soon as we finish them. In the meantime, be praying for these events and thinking of people who you’d like to invite.

Two New Volunteer Opportunities

We currently have 23 volunteers going to McNamara Elementary on a weekly basis. This is outstanding, and it’s just the beginning of our efforts. I want to thank Fran Moore and Judy Richardson for their hard work in getting this ministry off the ground.

There are two new opportunities for you to volunteer at McNamara. The following comes from an email from Mr. Renfro, on the McNamara campus:

"I have a special request to have a volunteer help us in the front office. The volunteers duty would to be to sit at the front desk in the main entrance and direct visitors to the main office. No paperwork or answering the phone is involved. At this time our office assistance team are helping with this task. If we had a volunteer to help in this area, it would free up our office assistance team for other duties. The time slot is open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Any time during this time slot would be good. Thank you so much."

In addition, they plan to take Pre-K through 2nd grade students to the rodeo March 9 and 10 from 8:30 to 1:30. They need 10 volunteers to serve as chaperones. Volunteers would receive a free ticket.

All volunteers will need to go through their screening process, so if you haven’t yet been screened, let me know.

Be a Part of the Body

Perhaps you’ve seen the TV commercial we did last year. In it, I talk about how a penny just isn’t worth much anymore. Honestly, when you see a penny lying on the ground, do you stop to pick it up? Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like that penny. We feel so small and insignificant, we wonder if anyone would find us worth their time. Then the Gospel comes along. There, we learn that Jesus measures our worth by a very different economic scale. He considers us worth not only His time, but His very life.

That’s the good news. But that’s not ALL the good news. In Baptist churches, we often stop there when we present the Gospel: It’s just Jesus and you. Jesus loves you, and if you love Jesus, you can spend eternity with Him. Isn’t that cool? But actually, it’s not just Jesus and you. When you come to know Jesus, you become part of something much bigger.

And that brings us back to the pennies. A few years ago, an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution listed some of the things pennies can accomplish when they get together:

A one cent per case increase of Coca-Cola would bring the company $45 million a year.

A one cent-per-gallon increase in the price of jet fuel increases Delta Airline's company costs by $25 million a year.

A one cent increase in the hourly wage for all the employees of Home Depot amounts to $6.5 million a year.

If Krispy Kreme increased the cost of each donut by one penny, the company would increase profits by $27 million.

At Westbury, we’re just a bunch of pennies who’ve gotten together…in the hands of God who has bigger plans than cokes or donuts. Last week, we concluded Reaching for the Prize with a sermon from Romans 12:1-2. That was also the first sermon in a new series I’ll be preaching on what it really means to be a part of the body of Christ, His church, from Romans 12. This week, we’ll look at verses 3 through 8, and ask the question: What is the most important factor (aside from God Himself) in us becoming the church we ought to be? Is it good preaching, great music, a good location, facilities, money…or something else? See you Sunday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reaching for the Prize: The "Post-game"

It was appropriate, although totally unplanned on my part, that our Reaching for the Prize campaign ended on Super Bowl Sunday. A new NFL champion was crowned after a fantastic game on the day some pundits refer to as “America’s Secular Holiday.” Meanwhile, we members of WBC were not crossing the finish line…we were just beginning our race! The prize we are seeking is much greater than a championship trophy; it’s greater even than the fame, satisfaction, and endorsement deals that come to a Super Bowl champ. One hundred years from now, only true sports trivia geeks will remember the exploits of Santonio Holmes, James Harrison, and Kurt Warner this past Sunday. But a million years from now, you and I will be just starting to grasp the glory of knowing Jesus and obeying Him.

So as we continue our journey together, I hope that this campaign has given you a new sense of purpose and direction. I’m praying for you to reach your goals and experience the joy of growing closer to our Lord. I wanted to share a few things with you as we take the next steps together.

If you haven’t finished the workbook, please take the time to do so. I think it will be worth your while. Feel free to call or email me with any questions you might have.

Consider refining your goals. Be as specific as possible. For example, instead of saying, “I want to be a better husband,” spell out the way in which you want to improve. “I want to be more patient with my wife,” or “I want to do a better job of listening to her” are much more specific, measurable goals.

Share your strategy with someone you trust. It may be a trusted friend, a spiritual mentor, a parent or a spouse. If someone else knows what you’re aiming for, you immediately feel a sense of accountability. You know that if you just drop this after a few days, someone will know it. Plus, you have at least one person praying for you specifically.

For five weeks now, you’ve been doing daily devotional work. That’s a good thing. Don’t let that stop, now that this study is over. No, I haven’t written anything to replace it, but a much better Author has. If you don’t already have a daily plan for reading the Bible, use our “through the New Testament in two months” plan. You can find it in the February copy of The Westbury Word, in your weekly worship bulletin, or on our website.

Continue to dream of what you can be if you truly, passionately pursue the goals God has in mind for you. Don’t give up on that. Don’t settle for “good enough.” Great days are ahead…let’s be a part of them!