Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sermon preview:

This past week was the 21st anniversary of the day I asked Carrie to marry me. My wife is an old-fashioned kind of girl, so before I proposed, I knew it was important for me to ask her parents for their blessing. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I had to stand before these very successful, intelligent, godly people and convince them that they should entrust their youngest daughter to a guy with no money, no job, and frankly, no clue. I did my best to convince them that I would take good care of her, and I guess my sales pitch worked.

Recently, I read the account of another young man who asked for a girl’s hand in marriage. Over 200 years ago, Adoniram Judson felt the call of God to take the Gospel to Burma, which had virtually no Christian witness at the time. Shortly before he was to leave, he met Ann Haseltine and fell madly in love. He wrote her father a letter, asking for her hand. Now, imagine you have a 22 year old daughter, and this is the letter you get:

I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next Spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?

We sit here in a room full of committed Christians, but if we’re honest, most of us can’t even comprehend the devotion to Christ it would take to allow our little girl to go to certain suffering and probably early death based solely on the promise that we would be glad we did in eternity. We might know it’s the right thing to do, but we would come up with some reason why she couldn’t go marry this crazy missionary guy. “Your mother needs you here.” “You’re the only daughter I have.” “I just don’t think you’re cut out for that kind of life. Someone else is probably more suited for it.” We have excuses for other things too. Some of us know that God wants us to get involved in a certain ministry or mission. Some of us have relationships in need of reconciliation; we need to ask someone’s forgiveness or extend forgiveness of our own. Some know that there is someone in their lives who God is calling them to reach out to with His love. Some know they should begin tithing of their income to God’s work; others know they should get involved in a small group for Bible study and fellowship. Then there are people, probably some in this very room, who haven’t yet committed their lives to Christ. They want to; they know they should; but there is something holding them back. We all have our reasons why we haven’t done what God wants us to do. Here is one thing I know: Between the world, our own flesh, and the Devil, there will always be reasons not to obey God. If you are waiting until it becomes easy and convenient to serve the Lord with all your heart, you will never do it.

Moses is one man who can testify to that. Here is a guy who was rescued as an infant from certain death, raised in royalty and luxury, then as a young man, became a fugitive from the law after committing a murder. Now, at the outset of Exodus 3, he’s an 80-year-old shepherd in the Midianite desert, when suddenly God appears to Him in a burning bush and tells him that he has been chosen to lead the most unlikely rescue mission anyone has ever heard of. He will go back to Egypt—the place he fled from forty years before—and stand face-to-face with Pharaoh, most powerful man in the world, demanding that he let God’s people go. In this message, we'll look at the five objections Moses had to this calling, and see how God would answer you and I when we make excuses. God responds to Moses’ five objections in five different ways, but God’s responses all have something in common. See if you can spot it.

"I hate religion, but love Jesus."

A young Christian named Jefferson Bethke recently posted a video on Youtube entitled "Why I hate religion, but love Jesus." The video is a spoken word presentation of the Gospel. It has gone viral, already receiving over 16 million views. The video has been the subject of numerous evangelical blogs, and at least one network TV show. Click on the link below to go to the Lifeway Ministries Research site for a look at the video itself, and also Bethke's appearance on the CBS Morning Show:

Click here

Many (including the priest who appeared with Bethke on CBS) have criticized the video for saying that Jesus came to abolish religion. You might think that, since I make me living in the organized religion business, I would agree with these critics. On the contrary, I think Bethke is right on. Now, perhaps I would have used different terminology. After all, what he is really talking about is self-righteousness, not organized religion as a whole (and Jesus was DEFINITELY against that). But Bethke used the term "religion" for its shock value (a tactic Jesus used as well). Based on the popularity of the video, I'd say his tactic worked.

More importantly, if you listen to what this guy says, it's a powerful presentation of the Gospel. I'm willing to bet that many of the 16 million people who have watched the video would never sit through one of my sermons, or any sermon at all...but through a video like this, they hear about Jesus' love and atoning death. I don't know much else about Jefferson Bethke, but consider me a huge fan.

I'd love to get your thoughts on this as well...

How to pray RADICALLY for our church

In 2012, Westbury Baptist is taking THE RADICAL EXPERIMENT. We've challenged our members to:
1. Read the entire Word of God.
2. Pray for the entire world.
3. Commit to community (ie, join and attend a Sunday School class).
4. Sacrifice financially for ministry.
5. Serve in ministry outside your context.

I'm excited about the feedback I've gotten from members already this year. But I also know the human tendency to get excited about plans for personal improvement, then quickly settle back into the status quo (after all, how many of us have already given up on our New Year's diet and exercise plans?). The truth is, if revival comes to Westbury Baptist Church, it won't be because of the Radical Experiment; it will be the result of God's Holy Spirit working a miracle in our hearts. If that is true, then as important as it is for each of us to fulfill the five challenges, it is at least as important for us to pray for God to revive and renew our church. So how can we pray? A couple of weeks ago at our deacon retreat, I shared five prayer requests with our deacon body. I would love to see our entire church pray in this way. You can pray for one item each day if you like:

1. Pray that we would stick with our Bible reading. On paper, it sounds simple. Just spend 15 minutes reading 2 or 3 chapters of Scripture. If it really is the Word of God, and we really are the people of God, that should be a no-brainer, right? But anyone who has tried it knows that it takes very little to distract us from daily reading of the Word. The excuses and obstacles come at us left and right...proof of the Devil's existence, in my opinion.

2. Pray that we would gain a hunger for the things of God. When I was a kid, I didn't appreciate home-cooked food. My parents agonized over my lack of eating. But take me to McDonald's, and I would eat like a linebacker. Now, I'm the exact opposite: I will eat McD's if that's all there is, but I'll complain about it...I like GOOD food now. Why? I acquired a taste for it, and once I did, the junk food didn't taste so good anymore. The things of this world are easy to acquire and superficially satisfying. The things of God, in contrast, don't appeal to us in our human nature. But once we gain a taste for them, the things of God put the things of this world to shame.

3. Pray that we would gain a passion for God's Kingdom. This isn't just about us growing closer to God personally, as important as that is. It's also about making us more aware of--and involved in--the work God is doing around the world.

4. Pray for growth in our small group Bible Study (ie, Sunday School). Our worship attendance is strong, but it's in small group Bible study that people get the fellowship, accountability, and encouragement we need. It's also where they and their children learn how to study and apply Scripture to life. In other words, it's the backbone of our church.

5. Pray that we would begin to expect more of ourselves as a church. My prayer is that through this year, we would stop lamenting the ills of our community, and instead would become God's solution to those ills. I pray that we would stop ignoring the lostness of this world and start addressing it. In other words, I pray that we would stop seeing Westbury Baptist Church as a place we go to receive things we need, and would start seeing it as the Body of Christ, which we are privileged to participate in for His glory.

Will you join me in praying this way?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sermon preview--Notes from a Scandal

We’re reading through the Bible chronologically this year, and right now we’re in Genesis. If this is your first time to read the Bible, you may find yourself wondering why certain passages are there. Why spend most of a chapter, for instance, giving us a long genealogy full of names of people we’ve never heard of? Don’t worry; the really confusing parts are still to come. In Exodus and Leviticus, you’ll get to read the entire Hebrew legal code, the instructions for building the tabernacle and the clothes that priests should wear, and the precise way each Jewish religious festival should be celebrated. The first four chapters of Numbers are nothing but lists of, well, numbers; how many people were in each Israelite tribe, to be exact. And there are several more genealogies to come, as well. You may find yourself wondering, “Why do I need to read this? What does this have to do with my life?” It’s helpful to remember that the Bible is not an instruction manual for life. It’s a revelation of who God is and how we can know Him through a record of His dealings with people just like us. It’s also helpful to remember that the Bible is inspired by God. Everything in it is very intentional, not just for us but for past generations. So when you come to one of these confusing parts of the Scripture, ask yourself, “What would this have meant to the people who first read it?” Then ask, “How does this fit into the overall plan of God in Scripture?” For example, those laws we’ll be reading soon were very important to the people who first read them. They were the only way for those original believers to know how to relate to God and live in a way that is pleasing to Him. Even though we don’t follow those laws or celebrate those festivals, we can still learn from them about God’s holiness and His desire for us to know Him. And the instructions for building the tabernacle may seem pointless to us, but once we get to the New Testament (especially Hebrews) we see that many of those details point directly to the person and work of Jesus Christ. They show us God didn’t send Jesus as some sort of emergency rescue mission; The redeeming, atoning Son of God was the plan all along.

The story we’ll look at this Sunday is one of those kinds of passages. Next week, you will read some amazingly entertaining, inspiring stories. Then you’ll get to Genesis 38. Quite frankly, this chapter doesn’t seem to fit. Genesis 37 is all about Joseph, a story familiar to many of us. Joseph is the favorite son of his father Jacob. He gets the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat while his brothers are all wearing Dickies overalls. Then his jealous brothers, miles from home, throw him in a well. They consider murdering him, but Judah comes up with a plan—let’s get rid of our brother AND make a profit. So they sell poor Joseph into slavery. They sling blood all over his spectacular coat so that their dad will think he’s been killed by a lion or bear. Meanwhile, Joseph becomes the slave of a high official in Egypt. And just when the story is getting good, just when we’re wondering if Joseph will ever see his father again, will ever get revenge on his brothers, all of sudden we get this bizarre and rather seedy story about Joseph’s brother Judah, the one who sold him into slavery. We read this story because it’s there, and frankly the seamy details are intriguing to our baser instincts, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to us. In this message, we’ll see what possible reason God had for recording this scandalous story for all time. It tells us something about God—and about His plans for us—that we need to know...something that could change your life.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sermon preview--Trading Glory for Beans

Eugene Peterson, the man responsible for today’s most popular paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, once observed that there are no perfect families in the Bible. Think about it: Adam and Eve’s family featured history’s first murder, an act of domestic violence. Noah had a serious problem with one of his three sons. Abraham and Sarah had fertility problems that led to an illegitimate child named Ishmael. Go right on down the list: Who had an ideal family in the Bible? Not Moses. Certainly not David. Not even Jesus Himself, for we see His own brothers mocking Him early in His ministry, and at one point, His immediate family thought He had lost His mind and came to take Him home and lock Him away. I mention that because one of the Devil’s most effective lies is to convince you that God’s church is only for people who have their act together. If you come from a dysfunctional family, or you have been divorced, or you have a child who is in rebellion right now, or your kids fought this morning, you may be tempted to think, “Maybe I shouldn’t even go to church. Maybe I’m a hypocrite. Everyone else has a perfect family but me.” In truth, God wants the best for your family and mine, but He knows that building a family is a process that takes prayer, work and time. It doesn’t happen overnight, and He is patient with us in the process.

This Sunday, we'll study Genesis 25:19-34, a look at a family in the scriptures that was far from perfect. Yet God was patient with them. In spite of their issues, He was able to redeem three of the four members of the family. We are going to focus most of our attention this time on the one who never quite figured it out. After all, one of the most effective ways to learn is to study the mistakes of those who have gone before us. We are going to look today at a man so foolish, he traded something priceless for something worthless. We'll consider examples of how we make those same kinds of bad trades in our own lives, and explore the reasons why we--otherwise intelligent people--make such huge, life-altering mistakes. And we'll see the one and only cure for the destructive forces that lie within all of us. My hope and prayer is that God will use this story to save many people from the terrible things we do to ourselves.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sermon preview--My Redeemer Lives

The book of Job is a difficult one for two reasons. First of all, it’s a terrifying story. We want to believe that if we are good people, God owes us happiness and prosperity. But Job was more righteous than any of us, and God allowed unthinkable things to happen to him: He lost all of his children and all of his wealth in one day. Then God took away his health and left him with a debilitating, seemingly chronic illness. The other difficult thing about this book is that it’s essentially a theological debate between Job and three of his friends. After Job loses everything, when he’s so downhearted that his own wife encourages him to kill himself, his three friends come to visit him. For seven days, they sit in silence with him. That’s what we all need when we are suffering…just someone to be with us. Then they make the worst mistake of all. They open their mouths. From chapter 3 to chapter 37, Job describes his confusion about what God has allowed to happen to him, and Job’s friends respond by saying, essentially, “You deserve this. Now take it like a man.” Then in chapter 38—spoiler alert!—God shows up and brings the story to a close. You’re going to like the ending, but if you’re like most of us, you won’t like those middle 35 chapters. We’re just not used to thinking this deeply about God.

Don’t be deceived. This isn’t a book about why bad things happen to good people. Even when God shows up, He doesn’t address that question. In fact, when God shows up, He’s the one asking the questions. No, this is really a story about faith. Hebrews 11 defines faith as being certain of what we hope for and sure of what we can’t see. In other words, faith is believing in that which we can’t prove. But it’s more than simply intellectual belief. I may believe intellectually that an airplane can take me from here to Dallas in less than an hour, but until I actually get on the plane, I haven’t demonstrated faith. We all have faith of some kind. Even an atheist has faith; every time he gets in his car, he has faith that the internal combustion engine isn’t going to explode and kill him; instead, it’s going to propel him toward his destination. I have faith that my wife truly loves me, and that faith in her love is an important factor in the person I am. I can’t prove her love to you; you might infer that she loves me since she’s chosen to live with me nearly 20 years—which I can assure you is no picnic—but you can believe whatever you want to believe. Job believed certain things about God. He couldn’t prove those things were true. In fact, his three very religious friends believed very different things about God. But in the end, it is Job’s faith that proves true. Job’s faith literally saves his life.

This Sunday, we'll take a good look at what Job's faith--true faith--consists of. Hopefully, you and I will never experience the hardship that Job faced, but we will need true faith throughout our lives to pass the tests of this world. Faith is not like physical height--it's not something you are either born with or born without. It's more like a muscle. God created us with the potential for faith, but we must develop it. Developing a Job-like faith could save your life.