Thursday, August 30, 2012

We Are the Watchmen

One of my friends told me a story once that has really stuck with me.  His dad was a handyman who later came to know Christ and became a preacher.  One day, my friend was helping his dad do some electrical work.  At one point, the dad turned to his son and explained that he would be working with live electricity, and that if he touched the wrong wire, it would electrocute him.  If this happened, he wouldn’t be able to let go of the wire.  So he handed my friend a two-by-four and said, “If this happens, you’ll know it.  And if it does, you have to hit my arm with that board to force me to let go of the wire.  Don’t touch me with your hand, or you’ll get shocked, too.  Do you understand?”  By the way, my friend was around 10 at the time.  Can you imagine him standing there, holding that board, shaking like a leaf and praying to God that he wouldn’t have to hit his dad?  I think about that story sometimes when I think about being charged with heavy responsibility.  Like most 21st Century males, I try to avoid as much responsibility as possible, as a general rule.  But I especially try to avoid those kinds of responsibilities.  I don’t like jobs that are simple in concept but very important.  I am continually amazed at my ability to mess up simple tasks in wildly creative and original ways.  It’s my true talent, in fact.  So if the responsibility is heavy, if lives are on the line, I don’t want to be the one holding the two-by-four.  

If you feel like that too, I have some bad news and some good news.  The bad news is that you and I have been given exactly that kind of responsibility—a job that is so simple in concept that a child can understand it—but hard to carry out, and with eternal consequences if we fail.  In fact, you might accurately say that this responsibility is our life’s work.  We all have different personalities, circumstances, careers and callings in God’s Kingdom, but we’re ALL called to do this.  The good news is that God has given us exactly what we need in order to succeed.  This Sunday at Westbury Baptist, we'll take a look at Ezekiel 33:1-11.  We'll spell out this great responsibility God has placed on your shoulders and mine, then we'll talk about the three ways we can mess it up, and what we need to do in order to succeed.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Avoiding Sour Grapes

It is increasingly rare these days to see anyone take responsibility for his or her failings.  We’re all familiar with the “celebrity apology.”  When a famous person does or says something that gets them into hot water (which seems to happen at least weekly these days), they read a carefully crafted statement before the press that says something like, “I am truly sorry to anyone who is offended or disappointed at my recent words and actions.”  The statement is carefully crafted to minimize responsibility.  It essentially turns the responsibility upon the people who were offended: “What I did/said wasn't really all that bad, but since some of you are so sensitive, I need to assure you that I really do care about your feelings.”  We follow in the footsteps of our celebrities; we rarely tend to acknowledge, much less deal seriously with, our own sins.  That's not a new tendency in humanity, by the way.  

Ezekiel lived at the same time Jeremiah did.  But while Jeremiah stayed behind in Jerusalem during the time when Judah was being conquered and destroyed by Babylon, Ezekiel lived with the exiles in Babylon.  He was also a priest, which gave him a credibility among the people that Jeremiah didn’t have. God was using both men to do the same thing: To help His people see the changes they needed to make so that these awful times wouldn’t be in vain; so that the devastation they experienced would change them forever as a people.  In Ezekiel 18:1-4, God told Ezekiel to address a saying that the Jews were fond of using.  “The fathers eat sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge.”  We know this was a common saying among the Jews at this time, because Jeremiah references it, too, in Jer. 31.  What they were saying was, “We’re being punished today because of what our fathers did in their day.”  Why would God tell Ezekiel to make the Jews stop saying this?  Well think about it. First, it was a very self-serving, self-pitying saying.  It essentially said, “Life is so unfair.  I am bearing the consequences of someone else’s bad choices.”  And second, it implied that they were stuck in these circumstances.  “God hates us because of what our fathers did, so there’s no use trying to get right with Him.”  In other words, it was a colossal evasion of personal responsibility.  

This Sunday, we'll take a look at where this tendency comes from, and how God can help you and I take responsibility for our own sin...and find real freedom.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

God's Guide to Life in the Big City

Often, when a young person is headed off to college, or makes some other big transition in life, an older Christian relative or friend will write them a note referencing Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a future and a hope.

I got several such notes when I was in my twenties.  They've pretty much dried up the past few years; a sure sign that I've hit middle-age.  The implicit point of referencing that Scripture is that God has a wonderful plan for my life, and that if I live for Him, I'll get to enjoy the bliss and purpose for which I was created.  I would go so far as to say that this verse is the most well-known and popular verse in all of Jeremiah.

Interestingly, the people who were its first readers probably didn't see Jeremiah 29:11 as good news.  They were captives in a strange city (Babylon) far from home, where the people didn't speak their language, keep their moral standards, or believe in their God.  In such an alien environment, some Jews decided to assimilate themselves into Babylonian society.  Others isolated themselves into a Jewish ghetto of sorts, avoiding any contact with their pagan conquerors.  Jeremiah 29 is the letter that the prophet wrote to these exiles, telling them how God wanted to them to live in this foreign city.  His words didn't make either the assimilators or the isolationists happy. 

Much like those Jews from long ago, we are called to live for God in a city where most don't talk, act, or believe as we do.  And we face the same dichotomy: Do we fit in with our neighbors or shun them?  These words from Jeremiah are especially applicable to our lives today.  This Sunday, we'll focus on Jeremiah 29:4-14. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Main Thing

Recently, as Carrie and I watched the Olympics, I observed that she should pray neither of her kids ever compete in the Games.  We both enjoy watching, but she pulls SO hard for our athletes.  When a gymnast is on the balance beam or pommel horse, she seems as nervous for them as if the athlete's very life were on the line.  When a swimmer or runner is headed down the home stretch to the finish line, she tries--almost physically--to will them to the win.  How bad would it be if it were one of our own children in the competition?

Last night, an American swimmer led the entire race, only to lose at the last second when a competitor outreached her to the platform.  Carrie was devastated; but we both thought about this young woman, who has trained her entire life for this opportunity, only to miss out on her goal by a fraction of a second.  What must that feel like?

In so many ways, that's like life: So many people pour themselves into some all-consuming pursuit, only to fall short of their ultimate goal. Or, just as frustrating, they achieve what they've always dreamed of, only to find it doesn't satisfy.  Jeremiah 9:23-24 makes it clear what our "main thing" should be.  But why is this so?  This Sunday, we'll take a critical look at a very counter-cultural proposition.