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 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 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.