Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mission Impossible?

Note: The following is an article I've written for the upcoming edition of The Westbury Word newsletter.  Since it talks about the direction I'll be headed in my preaching in the upcoming year, I thought I'd share it with all of you here...

One of my elementary school teachers had a bumper sticker on her desk that said, “Stop the world…I want to get off!”  Sometimes it’s easy for us as Christians to feel this way.  Things keep changing so fast in our culture, we can’t keep up with it all.  For example, many moral standards that once were a consensus in our culture—standards that come from Scripture--now seem to be ignored, even despised.  Increasingly, our neighbors are from other parts of the world and have no knowledge of Christianity; in fact, many are devout adherents of non-Christian faiths.  In addition, there is a rising trend of anti-religious sentiment.  Any public expression of faith is protested, even ridiculed, by a growing segment of the population (if you don’t believe me, read the comments online under any news story that has to do with faith).  No wonder even Christian thinkers talk about America as a “Post-Christian” nation.  So how are we called to respond?  Most of us grew up in The Bible Belt, where we were squarely in the majority.  We need to learn how to represent Christ in a non-Christian culture.  That will be the theme of my preaching in 2013.  At the start of the year, we’ll look at the obstacles we face, and how Scripture tells us to respond.  We’ll spend the rest of the year talking about men and women who have represented God well in similar circumstances (What?  You didn’t think we were the first ones to have it tough, did you?), and examine the characteristics God used in their lives to change the world.  Believe it or not, I think this is a time of great opportunity for followers of Christ.  I would rather be alive today than at any other time in history.  God is doing amazing things, and He has plans to use us—His people—in spectacular ways in a culture that seems to have forgotten Him.  The mission we have seems impossible, but all things are possible with God.  I hope 2013 is a year in which He does greater things in Westbury than we’ve ever seen before!

The Scandal of Salvation

"I have good news," says your doctor.  Your eyes light up.  This is exactly what you were hoping for as you sat uncomfortably on the little paper sheet in his claustrophobic examination room.  Those medical tests were painful and invasive, and the hours since have been stressful, but now it seems relief is at had...all the worry and pain will soon be a distant memory.  "Yep good news indeed," he says, and then lays it out for you: "You ARE in really bad shape.  You COULD die any minute now, in fact.  But the good news is that if you radically adjust your diet, begin to exercise regularly, take these medications I'm recommending and take an anger management class, you just might live a few more years."  You swallow, take it all in.  "Doc, that doesn't sound like good news to me." 

As Christians, we believe in something called the Gospel. Literally, that word means "good news."  But--let's be  honest here--most of us don't really see what's so good about it.  Most of us tend to think it is more like a list of obligations and rules than an "all-clear" from our doctor.  That's because we've forgotten what the Gospel really is.  This Sunday, the start of Advent season, we'll be looking at Romans 3:21-26, a passage that lays out the Good News in all its glory.  We'll also be taking the Lord's Supper together. 

But to be honest, there are truths in Romans 3 that people--both religious and irreligious--have a tough time accepting.  Good news or not, some parts of it are tough for us to swallow.  We'll unpack the Good News this Sunday.  I hope you'll be there. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why We Fight

Five years ago, a British man videotaped his two little boys Harry and Charlie.  He then uploaded the video onto, so that the boys’ godparents, who lived in America, could see it.   Somehow, that little one-minute video began to spread virally.  Today, that video has been seen over 400 million times on the internet.  Harry and Charlie are celebrities with their own fan clubs.  What did these two kids do in this video that was so remarkable?  They don’t sing or dance or tell jokes or juggle.  Three year-old Harry has one-year old Charlie in his lap.  He reaches his finger around and sticks it in Charlie’s mouth.  Then he gets an expression of pain on his face, pulls away, and says, “Charlie bit me!”  Then he smiles.  And he reaches his finger around and, very deliberately, puts it in Charlie’s mouth.  This time, he yells “Ow!  Charlie bit me!  And it really hurt, Charlie!”  There’s been a lot of debate online as to why this video is so popular.  Some think it’s because the kids are so cute with their British accents.  Others think it’s because the video is so simple and authentic, obviously not some hyped-up grasp for attention and fame.  What nobody ever asks is the obvious question: Why does Harry keep putting his finger in Charlie’s mouth?  Doesn’t he know there’s nothing in there but pain?
 Click here to watch: Charlie Bit Me!

That’s the story of our lives.  We keep on putting our finger in Charlie’s mouth.  
  •  A second-grader yells at his teacher and earns a trip to detention. 
  •  A teenaged girl who is otherwise intelligent and socially healthy suddenly decides to spread a rumor about another girl which leaves her feeling so ostracized she considers suicide.   
  • A man and a woman who promised to love one another "as long as they both shall live" decide that they can no longer even live in the same house.   
  • A church full of people who share the same beliefs on the most important questions of life let division and conflict separate them to the point where they have to split into two churches.  
  •  A nation invades a smaller nation, leading to years of warfare and hundreds of thousands of people killed, wounded or impoverished.   
Why is it the same old story, over and over again?  Haven’t we seen the results of conflict in the past?  Don’t we know that fighting doesn’t solve anything?  Didn’t it hurt the last time Charlie bit me?  So why do I keep putting my finger back into his mouth?  I don’t know about you, but I want to know the answer to that question.  I’m tired of being bitten.  Fortunately, James 4 tells why we fight.  And even better, it tells us what we need to do if we want to live in peace.  This Sunday, I'll be preaching on this passage, and my prayer is that seeds will be planted that lead to reconciliation and peace in many lives.