Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where Is God?

When I was in seminary, I had a friend who decided to bring his wife to class one day. Like so many of us, he was indebted to his bride for working full-time so that he could attend school. She had a day off from work, and he thought it would be great if she saw what her hard-earned paycheck was paying for. He also had an ulterior motive: He chose to take her to Systematic Theology class, thinking, "This is the hardest class I have. When she sees how difficult this is, she'll really be impressed with me." But his well-laid plan had an effect he did not foresee. After sitting through an hour and half lecture on the different theories of obscure theological issues, she said to her husband, "How is any of this relevant for ministry? When will you ever use any of this? I think maybe we're just wasting our money here..."

My friend managed to convince his wife that his theological education was worth finishing, so we were able to laugh at that story later, but it brings up an important point: Does theology really matter? We live in an age when younger Christians don't care about denominations or doctrines. There are good things about this development: There is much less strife between different groups of Christians, and much more cooperation among the churches than there used to be. This generation of believers puts much more stock on changing the world in Christ's name than on merely having correct beliefs, and that is an encouraging change. HOWEVER...what we believe about God really does matter.

This Sunday, we'll begin a new series of messages called "Where Is God?" It's a study of the life of Joseph, from Genesis 37-50. Joseph experienced some incredible hardships that very likely caused him to question what he believed about God. We can learn from his life. If you're unfamiliar with the Joseph story, get ready for one of the most exciting stories you've ever heard. If--like so many of us--you've heard this one many times, I am hoping we can shed a new light on a familiar tale, and more importantly, help each of us examine what we know about God.

Jesus said, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." It DOES matter what you believe. I hope to see you for each of these messages.

October 24: Where Is God When Life Doesn’t Make Sense? Gen. 37

October 31: Where Is God When It’s Hard to do Right? Gen. 39

November 7: Where Is God When We Feel Forgotten? Gen. 40

November 14: Where Is God When It’s Hard to Forgive? Gen. 42-45

November 21: Where Is God When We Doubt? Gen. 50:15-21

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Back to Church Sunday

This November 21 (the Sunday before Thanksgiving), WBC will be holding its first-ever Back to Church Sunday. We’re encouraging all Westbury members to invite someone to church on that day. Here are a few answers to questions you may have about this event:

I’ve tried inviting friends to church before, and it didn’t work. Why should I try now? Tom Rainer of Lifeway Resources found that in a given year, only 2 percent of church members invited someone to church, so plenty of Christians have given up. But he also found that 82 percent of non-churched individuals would be likely to attend church if invited by a friend or relative! It’s certainly worth trying again.

Is this like the “High Attendance Day” I’ve seen in other churches? It’s similar, except that in High Attendance Days (at least in the churches I have attended), the focus was on inviting people to Sunday School. Here, we’re challenging people to invite friends to worship, since that is the simplest “gateway” into the life of our church.

Who should I invite? Anyone you know who doesn’t currently have a church home. If friends or relatives from other churches happen to attend that day, they are welcome, as always. But we are more interested in building God’s Kingdom than in reaching some arbitrary attendance goal. If one new person attends that day and connects with God in a new way, it will all be worth it.

Why November 21? Many churches nationwide celebrated Back to Church Sunday this past September. We were busy working on Faith in Action Day, and so we decided to push our Back to Church day to the Sunday before the Advent Season begins. We know that people are thinking more about spiritual issues at this time of year, and thought it would be a good time to invite them to church.

Will you give me anything to help make inviting my friends more effective? We will make sure you have access to some great-looking printed materials that you can hand to your friends, as well as E-invitations on our website that you can email to others, and a Facebook event page that you can use to invite your friends.

Will the worship service that day be different from our usual service? No. We won’t do a dog-and-pony show, with special effects, giveaways, or other out-of-the-ordinary things. We want people to experience what worship is like at Westbury. The focus that day will be on praising God and hearing His Word, as always. Please begin praying now for Back to Church Sunday. Ask God to bring new people into His family. Pray that He would let you know who He wants you to invite. Begin praying for those people even now, so that the Spirit would prepare them for an invitation. It’s going to be a great day at Westbury…but then, every Sunday is!

Looking Back on Faith in Action, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010, Westbury Baptist had its second annual Faith in Action Day. Here’s a brief record of the ministry we did on the day that “the church left the building.”

32 people did outside beautification work at McNamara Elementary, including spreading 6 tons (!) of rock.

16 people assembled gift baskets for the Women’s Pregnancy Center. These will be used to help expectant mothers in the midst of crisis pregnancies.

34 people served food, did laundry, and in various other ways ministered to the homeless at The Beacon. That number included 15 members of the youth group and 19 members of our College/Career Department.

7 people picked up trash at Westbury High School.

9 people picked up trash at Willow Waterhole.

11 people handed out water bottles with the church’s logo and information on them to people on the Braeswood jogging trail and a nearby supermarket.

13 people delivered welcome bags with church information to new homeowners in our community.

32 people attended a prayer meeting in our church sanctuary, where we prayed for our Faith in Action projects, for the people we would minister to that day, for our nation’s leaders and national revival, for the physical and spiritual needs of our community, and for our church’s outreach to the lost.

75 people led a worship service for senior adults at Colonial Oaks. That number included 30 adults, 17 Youth, and 28 children.

12 people cleaned, sorted merchandise, and repaired light fixtures at Braes Interfaith Ministries’ resale shop.

11 people distributed gift baskets at Memorial Hospital Southwest.

19 people repaired the home of one of a needy church member. This group worked well past lunch.

45 people worked in our kitchen, preparing lunch for FIA, taking lunch to local fire stations, and dessert to police stations.

That’s a grand total of 316 people engaged in ministry to our local community. It does not include the people who watched kids in our nursery so that their parents could participate, or the people who visited all the ministry sites so that they could photograph the event for us, or others I don’t even know about. As you look at that list, I think you can see that thousands of people—who weren’t in church on a Sunday--received a touch from the Lord. I think you can also see the many ways God can take those seeds we planted and bring them to amazing fruit. Let’s all pray for that to happen in the days to come. Thank you to everyone who participated. Once again, you’ve made me very proud to be pastor of this church!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

10-10-10: Faith in Action Day

This coming Sunday is our second annual Faith in Action Day. Sunday School and worship will be canceled so that we can all participate in ministry activities in our community. We have even more people signed up this year than last year, the weather forecast for Sunday looks perfect, and we've added some additional projects. I think it's going to be even better than the first time around! Here's a list of projects we'll be doing:

McNamara beautification—McNamara Elementary School, 8714 McAvoy St.

Water bottle handout—Braeswood jogging trail, between N and S Braeswood.

Willow Waterhole trash pickup—Willow Waterhole storm water detention basin, near S. Post Oak between South Willow and Gasmer.

Westbury High School trash pickup—WHS campus, 5575 Gasmer Dr.

Hospital gift bag giveaway—Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, 7600 Beechnut

New homeowner bag blitz—Various homes in the WBC area

Home repair—Various homes near WBC

Braes Interfaith Ministries workday—Braes Interfaith Re-sale Shop, corner of W Bellfort and S Post Oak

Women’s Pregnancy Center gift baskets—WBC Room C-114

Senior living center worship service—Colonial Oaks, 13825 Lexington Boulevard, Sugar Land, TX 77478, 10:00 – 11:45

Volunteering at The Beacon—The Beacon, 1212 Prairie St, downtown.

Take lunch to fire stations—Various fire stations in the WBC area

Take dessert to police stations—Various police stations in the WBC area

Prayer meeting—WBC Sanctuary, 10:30

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Pew Forum Religion Quiz

Here's a link to the Pew Forum Religion Quiz, that recently revealed how little Americans know about religion. Among the startling findings: That atheists scored the highest! This quiz is about several religions, not just Christianity. It takes just a couple of minutes (15 multiple choice questions), so give it shot. Then--if you dare--come back here and post your score!

Fruit of the Spirit: The Strength to Be Gentle

Of all the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, gentleness is probably the most poorly regarded, especially by men. In large part, that's because gentleness (particularly when the King James Version translates it "meekness") is seen as a weak, delicate, matronly. But when we study what biblical gentleness is, we see anything but weakness. Perhaps the best image I have seen to picture this quality was a photograph in Sports Illustrated 25 years ago. The heavyweight boxing champion of the world was pictured holding his newborn son. Yet the camera was zoomed in so tightly, all that was visible was this tiny, naked figure nestled against a muscular chest, cradled by one massive bicep. It was a perfect picture of Herculean strength under control. Here was a man treating with great tenderness his baby boy, yet was anyone on Earth about to call him weak?

That is what gentleness is: Strength under control. It is knowing that we have the power to damage, even to destroy, others, yet choosing to treat God has treated us. Yet won't we be seen as weak if we choose to be gentle? Won't we get pushed around? Won't we forfeit the opportunity to claim justice for our wrongs? No one ever said following Christ was easy. We'll look at these issues in this Sunday's message, based on Matthew 5:5.