Thursday, February 24, 2011

Idiots Anonymous

I admit I got a little silly with the sermon title. I do that sometimes. Truthfully, the text couldn't be more serious this week. It's Luke 12:16-21, commonly known as the Parable of the Rich Fool. Take some time to read through it before Sunday. Then think about this for a moment...

Most of us find it difficult to admit we are wrong. Pride is one of the most tenacious sins; it holds on with a death grip, and we feel like it'll tear us apart if we try to get rid of it. As hard as it is to admit fault in a careless comment or an impulsive action, it is exponentially harder to admit that we have been wrong in our thinking and decision-making over a sustained period of time. This is one reason why otherwise good and decent people in history have nonetheless participated in some unspeakable evils: Many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, for instance. The biblical partriarchs, as well as David and Solomon, practiced polygamy. The Church in the Middle Ages initiated holy wars, inquisitions, and persecutions against the Jews that claimed thousands of lives in the name of Christ. We look back through the lens of history and wonder how they could have been so blind. Our pride leads us to believe that we would have acted differently had we lived back then. But we have our own blind spots. History and (more importantly) eternity will judge us, too. What will they see?

This parable highlights what I believe is our generation's biggest blind spot. God has been working on me in recent days regarding this shortcoming. Where He's taking me is something I can't quite determine yet...but I hope that this Sunday, He'll speak to you as well. It won't be an easy, encouraging message; more of a challenge than a pep talk. I hope you'll be there!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bet Your Life

Everyone, it seems, is looking for treasure. It's why people buy lottery tickets, peruse beaches with metal detectors, and visit antique shops and flea markets. But real treasure is rare. Many lotto winners can testify that their mega millions brought them more heartache than happiness. And most of those "man finds priceless artifact at garage sale stories" turn out to be hoaxes. I read about a Texas man who found a potato-sized stone on sale for $10 at a gem show in Tucson. Recognizing it as a huge, uncut sapphire, he bought it gleefully. One appraiser told him that a sapphire of that size would be worth at least $2 million. It was big news for a while. But according to, while the story is true, it turns out the man was never able to cash in on his windfall. Buyers noticed that the sapphire had an ugly, "cloudy" appearance.

This Sunday, we'll look at two brief parables in Matthew 13:44-46, that tell us where to find the only true treasure in life. For those who say, "I believe in where is the joy?" We'll take a look at not only WHAT true treasure is, but HOW we can experience it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

When "Good Enough" Isn't Good Enough

Here on the Gulf Coast, we're familiar with the process of preparing for a storm. In the summer or fall, the process repeats itself: We hear a weather report of a disturbance in the Gulf. We watch it carefully for a day or two, paying close attention to the "cone of probability" that shows where the storm might make landfall. We watch as the storm is upgraded from a depression to a tropical storm to a category 1 hurricane, and so on up the scale. Then, when it seems the storm is indeed headed toward us, we spring into action. Some of us stand in long lines at the hardware store and the supermarket, stocking up on supplies. Some have long since bought the lumber, generator and extra food and water we need, and we spend the next day or so boarding up our windows. And some of us choose to simply wait and see, hoping that the storm will take a last-minute turn away from us. We're hoping for Rita, not for Ike.

Fortunately for us, we live in an age of advanced technology, so we have several days to prepare for such a storm. But the spiritual storms of life--which can be far more destructive than a category 5 hurricane--often come without any warning at all. This Sunday, we'll be looking at Jesus' parable of the two builders in Matthew 7:24-27, as well as the other version of the parable in Luke 6:46-49. What does it take to be ready for any storm life throws at us?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What You've Been Looking For (Excerpt)

This Sunday, free copies of my new devotional guide, What You've Been Looking For will be available at the church. Here's an excerpt that should give you a taste of what the book will be like:

It was one of those moments of amazing clarity for me. I was sitting across the table from a friend, someone I respect deeply, and he was pouring his heart out to me. He was at a point of personal crisis; some things in his life that he thought were unshakable were beginning to crumble. He needed a friend to listen, to pray for him, but he also wanted to know what to do. I gave him the best advice I know, advice I have given dozens of times before to people who are hurting and fearful. I said, “You need to see this as an opportunity for spiritual rebirth. Take advantage of this time of brokenness to get closer to God.” His response was so honest, so obvious, that it took my breath away: “How do I get closer to God?” This was a man who had been in church all his life, who had heard many of my sermons, who prayed daily, yet he had no idea how to deepen his relationship with His Lord. I realized then that this was my fault. I am responsible for the spiritual condition of my flock. I wondered how many people in my church and in my broader “sphere of influence” were like my friend: Wanting to grow closer to God, but not having any idea how to do it.

That led me to the idea of writing a devotional guide. Actually, I hate to use that term. This book isn’t your standard book of devotions, nor is it simply a tool to use in one’s “personal quiet time.”...

An athlete goes through training camp to prepare for a season. An actor hires a personal trainer so he can pack on muscle for his role as a gladiator or superhero. But what we’re talking about is bigger than sports or movies. Imagine a man goes to his doctor and finds out that unless he dramatically reduces his weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure, he’ll be dead within a year. He thinks of his wife and the plans they had for the “empty nest years.” He thinks of his kids, of the experiences he wants to have with them in years to come, and of the possibility of holding grandchildren someday. He has some vague concept of what it would take to get into shape. But with his life on the line, he doesn’t want to tinker around with diet and exercise plans he can find on the internet. If only there were a sort of “boot camp” for out of shape middle-aged men, like the camps that prepare athletes and actors. He could whip himself into shape and, along the way, establish habits that would keep his body at its best for years to come. That’s what this book is intended to offer: a spiritual boot camp for people who want to have a real relationship with God, but who don’t really know how.

You want someone who’s in great shape running your boot camp, so I’ve found a great source. I am basing this book on The Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster. Celebration was named by Christianity Today as one of the top ten books of the 20th Century. Foster’s book is simply sharing the collected spiritual wisdom of great devotional writers that the contemporary church has largely forgotten, but who showed us how to truly know and serve God; people like Brother Lawrence, Julian of Norwich, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas a Kempis, and AW Tozer. Foster’s book lists twelve spiritual practices, or disciplines, that lead us closer to God. Of course, you could read Foster’s book, or any of the great devotional masters, and I hope you do. The book you are holding in your hands is simply a guide to help you walk through these classic disciplines. Think of it as Spiritual Disciplines for Dummies.

Here’s what you will need: A Bible; a place to write down your thoughts as you travel this journey (a notebook or a computer file will do fine); a designated time of the day to read this book (I prefer the early mornings, but you do it when you’re the most mentally fresh, and when you can spare a half-hour or so); and a serious commitment level. Again, this is a spiritual boot camp. We won’t just be running through a quick devotional thought and a Scripture each day. We’ll be learning to practice the classical spiritual disciplines that have enriched followers of Jesus for millennia.

The Curse of the Untended Garden

Years ago, I met a man while visiting church members in a nursing home. His name was Frank, and he had spent his entire life as a pastor in the area where I grew up. In fact, for a few years, he had pastored my home church, although that was before my parents were born. As you can imagine, he had some amazing stories. But one thing he said really stuck with me: "I'm 92, and I still have all my teeth!" He was so proud of that. As a 26-year-old smart-aleck, I found that funny. But now I think I understand. Our teeth are an important part of our body. If they are bad, our appearance suffers (and that affects the way other people respond to us). With bad teeth, our ability to eat good foods is compromised, leading to further health issues. Repairing bad teeth can be expensive, but the cost of NOT repairing them can be even higher, as chronic pain and embarrassment can produce depression. Bro. Frank was proud that he still had all his teeth after all these years, because that was quite an accomplishment. It represented countless times he had done the little things to take care of them. And because he had done the little things, he was reaping the rewards, well into his nineties. We only have one set of teeth. If we take care of them, they'll take care of us. If not, we will face the consequences.

No, this week's sermon is not about brushing and flossing and the wonder-working power of fluoride. It's about something even more unappreciated, and far more important. We'll be studying Proverbs 24:30-34. Here's a term for you to look up as you prepare for the message this week: entropy. Curious yet? See you Sunday.