Monday, October 31, 2011

Stuff on my prayer list this week

Here are some things on the top of my prayer list--along with others too personal to mention, of course. If the Lord leads to you join me in praying for some of these, I'd appreciate it.

1. Our church's Fall Carnival tonight (Oct. 31, 6-8). That God would bring lots of unchurched people, that everyone would be safe and have a great time, and that during and after the Carnival, He would use that good time to draw them to Himself and to our church.

2. My opportunity to speak to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at University of Houston this Wednesday at 8 PM. Several football players are being baptized, and UH Chaplain Mikado Hinson has asked me to speak on the purpose and meaning of baptism. I am always refreshed and inspired in the presence of these young men and women. Pray that I would be God's instrument.

3. The all-church prayer meeting at WBC this coming Sunday at 5. We'll be preparing our hearts for 2012, and specifically the Radical Experiment. Click here for more details.

4. That the Holy Spirit would fill my children, Kayleigh and Will, with a hunger to know Him better and a yearning to fulfill His purpose for them in the world.

5. That God would provide a buyer for our house.

6. That I would live this day--and every day--in hope of Christ's return, living each day in a way that positively impacts eternity.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sermon preview--The Ten Virgins

I know this is an unusual title for this message, but that’s what the parable we’re studying today (Matthew 25:1-13) is commonly called. Perhaps a better title would be, “How to have hope.” Hope is one of the key concepts of the New Testament; it’s a trait all Christians should have. But not many of us seem to have hope these days. What is hope? It’s not the kind of desperate wishing that we often think of when we hear the word. It’s not, “I hope my team wins tomorrow,” or “I hope my teenager isn’t getting into trouble.” It is a confident expectation of something you know will be yours someday, but you just don’t possess it yet.

The metaphor Jesus used to describe hope was usually a wedding. Isn’t it interesting that a man who never married saw a wedding as the ultimate picture of hope? I think about my own wedding when I read parables like this. Carrie and I got engaged a full year and a half before we would be able to get married. I know a long engagement isn’t ideal, but I was very intentional about that. I saw the way guys on our campus and at Carrie’s church looked at her. I wanted a rock on her finger (or in my case, a pebble, unfortunately) so that I could let everyone know she was mine. That was indeed a long year and a half, but I wouldn’t do it differently if I could. It gave me something to look forward to, something to keep my hopes up. I knew that even if my car broke down, or I didn’t get the job I applied for, or I got an annoying roommate (and all of those things happened over that year and a half) that none of that could change the fact that I was going to marry her in May of 1992. My theme song then was the old Beach Boys’ tune: Wouldn’t It Be Nice.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, and we didn’t have to wait so long?

Wouldn’t it be nice to live together in the kind of world where we belong?

You know it’s gonna make it that much better, when we can say goodnight and stay together. Oh wouldn’t it be nice?

Jesus wants us to live in that kind of hope. He wants us to have something the world can’t take away from us. That kind of hope will help us to live holier, more meaningful lives, because we know that every day, we have a chance to impact eternity for good. So our lives aren’t just about surviving the work week and waiting for the weekend, or paying our bills; our lives are about doing something that lasts forever to the glory of God. And that kind of hope leads to joy that our circumstances can’t erase. Because even if our dreams in this life fall apart, even if loved ones die—and they will—even if our bodies disintegrate—and they will—the world can’t take away this hope of being with our Lord in a perfect place forever. So even things like sickness and aging and sorrow, things that the rest of the world has no answer for, are just reminders that a better world is coming, that we will live in perfect bodies someday in the presence of the one who makes all things new. That hope is why early Christians were willing to die rather than forsake Christ. It’s why they were willing to stay in plague-ravaged cities, taking care of the sick, both Christian and pagan, when everyone else had abandoned the city. It’s why those early Christians lived such distinctively loving and holy and joyful lives, because while everyone else was focused on the here and now, they lived in hope of something far better.

So how do we live in that kind of hope? How can we keep our eyes on a future that we’ve never seen? Jesus spoke at length about His return in chapter 24. Then He capped it off with a series of parables, including this one. This Sunday, we'll explore the parable, and see what it takes to live in hope. I "hope" you'll be there!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sermon preview--The Rich Man and Lazarus

It will soon be Halloween, so there are horror movies, old and new, on TV. I remember how much I used to enjoy scary stories when I was a kid. I was a voracious reader, and sometimes I would check out books about Bigfoot, ghosts or UFOs. Later that night, as I struggled to fall asleep, flinching at the slightest sound, I would wish I had read Tom Sawyer instead. As a teenager, I remember one Halloween night when my best friend and I rented an armful of terrifying movies (including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and stayed up most of the night watching them.

At this point in my life, slasher films and spook stories don't have the same appeal they once did. Real life is scary enough. But sometimes, it is good to be frightened. Even though the most prevalent command in the entire Bible is "Fear not" or some variation thereof, sometimes fear is a useful emotion, reaching us in ways that more gentle approaches cannot. I'm not saying that watching the latest Hollywood gorefest is good for our spiritual lives (quite the opposite, I suspect). But in His Word, God often uses horrifying images to motivate us to change. In other words, we can be literally scared straight.

This Sunday, we will look at the scariest story Jesus ever told. It's found in Luke 16:19-31, and I think because of its central message, it's more terrifying now than ever before. How will it change your life?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What is a preacher to do?

So what does a preacher do on the weeks he isn't scheduled to preach? This weekend is our annual Faith in Action Day, and this year, we're putting a new twist on the event. Instead of cancelling church and Bible Study to do ministry in our community, we'll be ministering on Saturday and celebrating on Sunday. So in place of my message, our church will hear stories from all fifteen of the groups who will taking the love of Christ outside our walls. It will be a great, great day in God's house.

So with no sermon to prepare, how did I spend my time? Frankly, you might feel like Rhett Butler on the subject, but I'll tell you anyway. As some of you already know, in 2012 we will challenge all Westbury members to take the Radical Experiment. You can find out more by clicking on this link. One of the five challenges will be reading through the entire Bible in a year. My plan is to preach a message each week based on one of the passages our church will be reading that week. So I spent a good bit of time preparing next year's sermon calendar. It's a big task, and I'm only halfway done. But it is also one of the most exciting things I do all year. I can't wait to preach these messages!

So pray for me as I keep on planning, knowing of course that all plans are only as good as God allows them to be. He has the final say-so.