Thursday, December 19, 2013


Recently, I was in the car with my mom, and Christmas music was playing on the radio.  The song, “I’ll be Home for Christmas” came on, and my mom said, “I couldn’t listen to this song when your dad was in Vietnam.”  As far as I know, that year he did his tour of duty in Vietnam was the only Christmas my parents have spent apart from one another in nearly a half-century of marriage.  Yet here it is well over forty years later, and when my mom hears that song, it reminds her of one of the saddest times of her life.  For me, it was a needed reminder that while most of us enjoy Christmastime, it’s a tough time of year for many people.  For those folks, some of the songs we love may take on a whole different meaning.  Maybe you can identify with that.  You’ve lost someone recently, or your health is declining, or you’re trying to adjust to a new financial reality, or maybe you don’t even know why you’re sad…you just are.  If this just doesn’t feel like “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” I hope my message this Sunday will be exactly what you need.  But even if you consider yourself relatively happy, this sermon is for you.  One thing I have observed is that for the overwhelming majority of happy people, happiness is extremely fragile. You can easily identify one or at most two things in their lives which, if those things were suddenly missing, their happiness would vanish.  So maybe you’ve just fallen in love, and that’s an amazing feeling.  But someday, that person may be gone, or they may not love you back.  Or maybe you just got hired to your dream job; but what if that job turns out to be a nightmare instead?  CS Lewis said “Never let your happiness depend on something you may lose.”  And unfortunately, almost all the stuff that makes us happy is temporary.  We will lose it eventually.  So Merry Christmas!    
We’ve been talking the past several weeks about “How to Be Good at Life,” as we’ve studied the wisdom of Scripture on how to live a life that is an example to others.  All year, we’ve been talking about representing Christ in a non-Christian culture.  As I tie up both of those threads this Sunday, I can tell you this: Nothing in all the world is as attractive as joy.  Nothing draws people to Christ more reliably, no sermon in the world preaches as powerfully, as an ordinary person who has joy.  And besides that, living with joy is, well, enjoyable.  It is the only way to live.  I have good news for you today: God wants you to have joy.  So this Sunday, we’re going to talk about joy;  The joy the wise men expressed when they found the infant Messiah.  We’ll talk about what it is, and how we can have it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Inner Transformation

How would you change yourself if you had the chance?  You may be aware that there are computer programs that now exist than enable you to custom design a house on your computer monitor.  You can scan in a picture of your house, and then play with it all you want.  See what it would look like if you added on. Try a new color scheme.  Change the landscaping.  Go from a tin roof to shingles, or from wood to siding.  Then when you find a combination you like, just give it to your builder and say, “That’s what I want.”  Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that with our selves?  What would you change?  I daresay most of us would change at least a few things about our appearance.  We would add a few inches of height, put hair back on that head, or shave off a few pounds.  Others would be more practical.  They would focus on inner qualities and skills that last longer and have more impact on our lives.  Some might say, “I want to fill my mind with knowledge of finances and markets, so I can invest my money wisely and make millions.”  Others would order an intelligent witty personality, so that they could always have plenty of friends, and always be the life of the party.  Others might choose the ability to become a scratch golfer, a cello virtuoso, or a scientific genius, so that they could earn a living doing something they love.  It’s a very appealing idea, isn’t it?  Everyone alive has an image of their ideal self; the person they most want to be.
But who does God want you to be?  That is the key question.  According to Proverbs 16:32, a person’s highest goal should be to rule their spirit.  The NIV says, “self-control,” but the actual Hebrew term is “rule your spirit.”  In other words, being able to control your inner self, your emotions, motives, personality, is far greater than any other earthly achievement.  A man or woman whose personality is truly godly is a true hero, far surpassing the military conqueror who wins a battle.  While we all desire beauty, strength and skill, God wants us to seek inner righteousness.  Solomon knew this.  In Proverbs, he often talks about the qualities that must be found in a godly personality.  As I read the book of Proverbs, there are three qualities that keep hitting me right in the face.  I suspect you’ll find that, like me, each of these three are qualities you need a lot more of in your life.  This Sunday, we'll examine these three qualities that we should seek to program into our lives.  The good news is that this kind of transformation IS possible. In fact, it's the full-time occupation of God. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Owns You?

My dad was a Master Sergeant in the army in Vietnam in the late ‘60s.  He was stationed on a base, and one of his jobs was to process soldiers coming in from America and going home from Vietnam.  He also processed guys who were going on R&R.  This was tricky; the guys going on R&R would usually bring all the money they had, so my dad and the other personnel at the base had to be very careful about theft.  They told every one of these soldiers to put their belongings in the safe.  One guy didn’t trust them.  He put all his money in a suitcase and chained it to his bed.  The next day, my dad was called to investigate a theft.  They found this guy in his underwear.  Someone had snuck in while he slept and cut the suitcase at the handle.  Everything he owned was gone.  All he had left was his underwear and the handle of that suitcase.

It’s been said that money makes the world go ‘round…but money ends up making a fool out of most of us eventually.  Some of us, like that guy on my dad’s army base, don’t listen to good advice; others are too naïve and trusting.  Some of us are too conservative; others are too carefree.  Even if we haven’t lost it all, been audited by the IRS, had to file bankruptcy or in some other way failed financially—even if you’ve never been made a fool of by money, I guarantee you know someone who has.  We all have our stories.  We’re in a series now called “Being Good at Life,” focused on the wisdom we find in the biblical book of Proverbs.  If you’ve never read Proverbs, you might be surprised to find out it has an awful lot to say about money.  Some of the stuff it says is basic common sense; when you read it, you nod your head and say, “Ain’t that the truth?”  Other stuff it says just sounds exactly opposite what we would expect.  It’s counter-intuitive.  This Sunday, I won’t be able to cover everything Proverbs has to say about money, but I want to mention seven key teachings very briefly.  As we study this together, my prayer is that many of us who find ourselves slaves to the ruthless taskmaster that is money and possessions will take the first step toward freedom. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Weapon safety

My ten-year-old son has a BB gun.  I bought it for him because I knew how much fun I had with mine when I was a kid.  There's another reason why I bought it for him.  When I was around ten, my dad bought me a 20 gage shotgun.  I was a little kid; the first time I fired the gun, the recoil knocked me down.  My dad ended up sawing a couple inches off the stock so that I could brace it against my shoulder.  You may wonder what kind of father would buy such a dangerous weapon for such a small child.  First of all, we lived in the country.  Being able to handle a gun was not only a rite of passage, it was a necessity.  Second of all, my dad used that gun to teach me responsibility.  There were very strict rules.  You don’t load your gun and cock it until you are ready to fire.  You never leave your gun loaded.  You never aim at anything unless you know what it is.  And you never, ever point the gun at anyone.  Dad showed me the proper way to hold the gun when I walked, so that if I tripped, I wouldn’t accidentally discharge it.  Once, my brother and I went hunting. When we got back, I left my gun laying out in the utility room.  When my dad found my gun laying out, still loaded, I was in serious trouble.  A gun is nothing to mess around with. 
Proverbs 18:21 tells us that our words are like a gun.  They have the power of life and death.  We can use words to bring hope, joy, encouragement, comfort, and any number of wonderful things.  There are people in this very room who have said encouraging things to me that I will cherish forever.  We can also use words to praise the name of our God.  And of course, the greatest use of words is when we share the gospel with someone.  But words can be a weapon, too.  Like a gun in the hands of an irresponsible person, words used carelessly can destroy so much.  Everyone here has been hurt by words in the past.  No matter who you are or what you are capable of in any other part of your life, you have the power to kill or heal, to build up or destroy, right behind your teeth.  It is an awesome responsibility that we all share to use our words carefully.  So how do we make sure that our words are a force for good instead of evil?  Not surprisingly, the book of Proverbs has much to say on this subject.  This Sunday, I'll continue my series from Proverbs, called "Being Good at Life," with a look at how God wants us to use our words. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Being Good at Life

             The famous preacher and author Chuck Swindoll was in the Marines as a young man.  On one occasion, he was on board a ship that was cruising into the harbor of Taipei, Taiwan.  When they got within less than a mile of the port, the ship suddenly stopped.  They waited as a man in a small boat came out to meet them.  This man was the harbor pilot.  He climbed on board, took the wheel, and guided the boat the rest of the way.  Some of the Marines thought this was a silly formality; after all, why couldn’t their own captain take the boat into port, since he had brought them this far?  But then they noticed that the harbor pilot was steering the boat in an odd course, weaving back and forth through the harbor on the way to the shore.  They looked over the side of the boat, and down deep under the water, they saw the reason why.  There were mines in that harbor, below the surface of the water.  Anyone who tried to sail into Taipei harbor would surely be blown to bits—unless the harbor pilot was at the wheel.  Only he knew where the mines were.
            You and I live in Taipei harbor.  In every step we take, every decision we make, there are potential mines waiting to blow us out of the water.  That attractive, vibrant person you work with, who you find yourself daydreaming about at random moments of the day--six months from now, you may find yourself in a relationship with that person that has destroyed your family and made your life a living hell.  This week, a friend may convince you to sink money you don’t really have into an investment that’s "a can't-miss opportunity"; two years later, you’ll be declaring bankruptcy.  This very afternoon, you might lose your temper because of some jerk on the freeway and end up doing something you’ll regret the rest of your life.  Face it, sooner or later, nearly all of us manage to make a mess out of our lives.  No matter how smart we may think we are, or who we may consult, we can’t see the mines in the harbor.  Unless we give the wheel to the harbor pilot.  There is only one right way, and only He knows it.
            All this year, I have been preaching on the topic of "representing Christ in a non-Christian culture."  We've looked at various attributes we need in order to live out our faith in these challenging times: Boldness, faith, prayer, holiness, etc.  For this last series of the year, I want to talk about one more important attribute: Wisdom.  We often confuse wisdom with knowledge, but the two are very different.  Knowledge is assimilating information; Wisdom is (my definition) being good at life.  Imagine if Christians were universally known for being dependable, smart, capable, rock-solid individuals who others sought to learn from.  That is what we were meant to be.  No, we won't all be successful in the estimation of this world, but we should all be men and women of wisdom.  What does that look like in real life?  Over the next several weeks, leading up to Christmastime, we'll take a look at the book of Proverbs, and see what it really means to be good at life.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Don't Give Up!

There's a much-loved children's book called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  I've never read it, but I love the title.  Don't we all have days like that? You know the kind of day I’m talking about, where you start to think, “Okay, this is pretty bad, but at least it can’t get worse…” and then it does.  It’s the kind of day where the only prayer you know how to pray is “C’mon!  Really?”  Those are faith-testing days.  In the movie Bruce Almighty, a character says, “God is a mean kid with a magnifying glass and I’m the ant.”  That’s what it feels like sometimes.  If that’s where you are right now, there's a letter from God you need to read.  And if you’re not having one of those days, file this one away.  You’ll need it sooner or later. 
            Revelation 3:7-13 is a letter from Jesus to a church in a city called Philadelphia.  Not the one in Pennsylvania, of course, but the one in a Turkish city that is today called Alasehir.  Jesus doesn’t really talk about what these people were up against, except there was a synagogue that was giving them some trouble. Perhaps their main problems were going to start soon.  But Jesus gave them—and us—five promises to get us through days like these.  In this Sunday's sermon (October 27), I'll take a look at these five promises.  On the worst of days, there are still some things we can count on...Thank God!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wake up and smell the...reality

Many years ago, a man was in a bar in his hometown in Illinois.  The men there were swapping war stories.  This fellow, whose name was Jack Genot, wanted to appear brave, too.  So he made up a story that he had served in the Marines in Korea and was taken prisoner during a bloody battle.  Word got out.  Jack became a local hero.  He was elected a city councilman, was asked to march in parades and tell his story to schoolchildren.  To keep up the façade, he bought a Marine uniform and ordered medals from a catalog, which he wore on special occasions.  He forged discharge papers so he could get a “wounded veterans” license plate.  But then someone became suspicious.  A veterans’ group began investigating and found no record of Jack’s stories.  For two years, he dodged the questions.  Finally, at the age of 71, Jack Genot admitted he made the whole thing up. 

            Jesus had a name for people who pretended to be something they weren’t; He called them hypocrites.  Our Lord didn’t invent the term; He just gave it a new meaning.  It had always been used to refer to actors, as in “Daniel Day Lewis and Meryl Streep are the greatest hypocrites of our age!”  But Jesus used it in a spiritual sense, to describe someone who pretended to be more holy than they truly were.  The irony is that today, no single group of people gets charged with hypocrisy more often than the very people who follow Jesus.  After all, who among us has NOT heard someone say, “Christians are all a bunch of hypocrites?”  Is it true?  Would Jesus say that about Westbury Baptist Church? 
            2000 years ago, Jesus Christ appeared in a vision to his elderly friend John and revealed to him mysteries about the end of our world that became the book of Revelation.  At the beginning of that book, Jesus gave John messages to send to seven churches that existed then in modern-day Turkey; messages that I believe are intended for all His churches, in all times, until He returns.  They tell us what it means to Be the Church.  This Sunday, we examine the fifth of those letters, to the church in Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6).  We have a saying these days when someone refuses to acknowledge the reality of their situation: “You’d better wake up and smell the coffee.”  That’s exactly what Jesus is saying to the Sardians...and to us.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Holding On For Dear Life

We’re in a series now called “Be the Church,” looking at the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3.  I have to say, of the seven, the letter to Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29) is the hardest for us as 21st century Christians to read.  Remember, these letters are dictated by Jesus to His old apostle John, and it’s hard for us to reconcile some of the things Jesus says in this particular letter with the image we have of Him as a gentle, kind-hearted person who never got angry.  Perhaps it indicates that our image of Him isn’t entirely accurate.  Perhaps we should recall that Jesus got angry enough with hypocritical religious folks that He called them names like "sons of snakes" and "whitewashed tombs."  Perhaps we should recall that he got angry enough at seeing merchandise take over the temple of God that He made a whip out of cords and forcibly, violently drove the money changers out.  Jesus loves you and me more than we can ever comprehend.  In fact, He loves us so much He gets angry at the stuff that hurts us.  In this letter, we read the anger He felt toward a faction that was destroying His church...and see His instruction to the faithful remnant that had so far resisted compromise with evil.  

We live in a time when to be truly Christian is much less culturally popular than it once was.  How do we keep from drifting away from Christ?    Years ago, I became pastor of the little church I had grown up in.  Carrie and I lived in a parsonage that was right across a little country road from the church, less than fifty yards from building to house.  One night early in my time there, I left Sunday night worship and started walking home.  Once I got out of the church’s parking lot, I realized I had a problem. It was dark!  I had lived in the city for several years, and I had forgotten how absolutely dark it gets in the country.  I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.  I lost my bearings, wasn’t sure whether I was headed in the right direction or not.  I started thinking, “What if I stumble into a ditch?”  So I literally got down on my hands and knees and started feeling my way toward the house. Then it hit me: What if I crawl right into a snake?  Copperheads are very common there.  So I quickly stood back up and walked very slowly toward the house.  I made it, but from then on, whenever we left the house, we turned on the porch light.  Jesus has told us that we are the Light of the World.  We’re commanded to let our light shine so people will see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven.  There is darkness all around us; let’s not forget to keep our lights on.  How do we do this?  How do we make sure we can withstand the pressure and won’t compromise? 

We find great encouragement and instruction in this letter to a church 2000 years ago.  We'll talk about it this Sunday. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Escaping the Anaconda

Since at least 1998, an email has been making the internet rounds.  It claims to be from a manual given to Peace Corps volunteers, and it’s entitled, “What to Do If Attacked By an Anaconda.” 

*      1. If you are attacked by an anaconda do not run. The snake is faster than you are.

*      2. Lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides, your legs tight against one another.

*      3. Tuck your chin in.

*      4. The snake will come and begin to nudge and climb over your body.

*      5. Do not panic.

*      6. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet and always from the end. Permit the snake to swallow your feet and ankles. Do not panic.

*      7. The snake will now begin to suck your legs into its body. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time.

*      8. When the snake has reached your knees slowly and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife and very gently slide it into the side of the snake's mouth between the edge of its mouth and your leg, then suddenly rip upwards, severing the snake's head.

*      9. Be sure you have your knife.

*      10. Be sure your knife is sharp.

*      anaconda, do not run; the snake
           I know this will disappoint some of you, but that list is a myth.  Snake experts will tell you that an anaconda doesn’t swallow anything alive; it squeezes them to death, then swallows.  Sad to say, if you get attacked by an anaconda, I have no advice for you at all.  But think about how the instructions end: “Be sure you have your knife.  Be sure your knife is sharp.”  I don’t know how to prepare you for an anaconda attack.  But today, I do have a much more important--and helpful--warning.  We’re in a series now on what it means to be the church.  We’re looking at seven letters Jesus wrote to seven churches in the first century…letters that I believe were intended for all churches in all times, including ours.  And we’re asking the question, “Based on what Jesus said to that church, what would He say to us today?”  This Sunday, we'll take a look at Rev. 2:12-17, in which Jesus tells us what we REALLY need to watch out for.  Want to make sure your knife is sharp?  I'll see you Sunday. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Don't Be Afraid

Do you know what command is found most frequently in Scripture?  “Fear not.”  It’s what God told Moses before he went to confront Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world.  It’s what Isaiah told king Hezekiah when an army hundreds of thousands strong was on its way to invade tiny Judah.  It’s what the angels said to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth.  And it’s what Jesus said to a church in modern-day Turkey 2000 years ago.  We’re studying the seven letters found in chapters two and three of Revelation because I believe that Jesus meant them to encourage and warn and instruct all of His churches until He returns.  As we get ready to celebrate 50 years of our church’s existence, and as we get ready to start some exciting new things, I think we need to see what these ageless letters have to say to us.

            This second letter (Rev. 2:8-11) was written to the church in the city of Smyrna. Smyrna was a large city, with over 200,000 inhabitants.   Smyrna was also a wealthy city, because it had a long history of loyalty to Rome.  Perhaps that’s why, during the lifetime of Jesus (23 AD), the Roman Senate voted to allow the Smyrnans to build a temple for the worship of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar.  Emperor worship was compulsory throughout the empire.  All you had to do is go once a year to one of these temples, burn a handful of incense and say “Caesar is Lord.”  For the average Roman citizen, this was no problem.  They believed in dozens of gods; why not add Caesar to the mix?  They thought of it more in patriotic than religious terms; for them, it was like pledging allegiance to the flag or taking one’s hat off when the national anthem was played.  But for the Smyrnan Christians, this was a huge fact of life.  Smyrna was proud of its status as an extremely patriotic city.  To have a small group of people who refused to pay homage to their emperor was intolerable. 
            Jesus mentions three things the Smyrnan Christians were going through.  First, He mentions “afflictions.”  That same word is translated “persecution” in v. 10.  Second, He mentions poverty.  Why would the Christians be poor in a city that had great wealth?  Because the Christians were seen as unpatriotic heretics, most of them couldn’t find work.  Third, he mentions slander from a “synagogue of Satan.”  Now, before you conclude that there is serious anti-Semitism going on here, remember that this is a letter dictated by Jesus, a Jew, and written down by John, a Jew.  Judaism was seen in many parts of the empire as a respected alternative religion, and therefore in many places, Jews received certain benefits.  They could, for instance, opt out of emperor worship without being prosecuted.  Some scholars believe that a group of Jews in Smyrna, jealous and hateful toward the Christians, were telling the government, “These people may have Jewish blood, but they’re not Jews.  You shouldn’t give them the same exception you give to us.”  That may be one of the ways they slandered the church.

              In view of all this, how could Jesus say, "Don't be afraid?"  And how does He expect us to respond to the things we fear most?  We'll explore these questions and others this Sunday.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Long Lost Love Letters

In November of 1944, the height of World War II, Lt Joseph Matthews wrote a letter to his wife, who lived in Greenwich Village, New York City.  In the letter, he shared the kind of intimate thoughts that a couple in love feel for one another.  He told about a mutual friend in the army with him at the time.  He assured her he was okay. And he signed off with, “God is with you.  I love you.”  The letter never reached his wife.  Earlier this year, it arrived at its address, where the current resident, a 27 year old New York woman, opened it.  She was immediately captivated by the letter, and became determined to find Lt Matthews and his wife.  This past May, she managed to locate Matthews’ daughter, who confirmed that the handwriting on the letter was definitely her father’s.  Both he and his wife had passed away, but she and her sister were overjoyed to receive this long-lost note.  No one knows where it had been for nearly 70 years. 
            Put yourself in the position of those daughters.  How exciting would it be to read a letter written by your dad to your mom when they were both in their early 20s?  Wouldn’t you want to know everything it said?  Wouldn’t you treasure every word?  Now think about this: What if God wrote a letter to our church 2000 years ago?  Would you want to read it?  Would you want to interpret it carefully, so that you knew exactly what God was saying to us?  The truth is, God did write a letter to this church 2000 years ago.  In fact, He wrote seven letters to this church, and to all of His churches.  Most people think of Revelation as a book about the end of the world.  But there is more to the last book of the Bible than trying to figure out who the tenth horn of the beast represents.  All this year, we’ve been talking about how to represent Christ well in a non-Christian culture.  But we need to acknowledge that nowhere in Scripture are we told to do this alone.  God created the Church for a reason.  As we here at WBC get ready to celebrate 50 years since our founding, and as we look forward to putting in place some important changes through our Westbury 20/20 plan, I think it’s important for us to talk about what a church is supposed to be.  That’s where these seven letters, found in Rev. 2-3, come in.  For the next seven weeks, all the way up to our 50th anniversary, we'll be looking at these letters on Sunday mornings.  What was Jesus saying to these churches?  What is He saying to us today?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Point of it All

School just started a couple weeks ago.  One of my least-favorite memories from my school days were the infamous big projects that teachers assign.  Somewhere, in some long-forgotten textbook they use in education schools—probably authored by Heinrich Himmler—there is the suggestion that kids don’t learn best from reading books and listening to lectures and taking tests.  They need to do some big projects.  So we have, for instance, Science Fairs.  Here’s a tip for teachers: Kids hate the big projects.  We don’t really learn anything.  We put it off until the last moment, throw something together, then pray for the school bus to run over us the morning of the science fair so we won’t have to face the wrath we deserve for doing a terrible job.  You know which kids DON’T hate big projects?  The ones whose parents did the projects for them.  So you have little Timmy, who wins the Science Fair.  Little Timmy, who can’t even tie his own shoes, has managed to build a working internal combustion engine.  He has charts and graphs that look like they were produced by a Fortune 500 marketing firm and a power point presentation narrated by Morgan Freeman.  And you stand next to him with some earthworms in a Dixie cup full of dirt, and a few notes written with a sharpie on the back of a pizza box.  And here’s the worst part of all:  Little Timmy has the nerve to boast and brag and lord it over you and every other third grader that he won the Science Fair.  This is infuriating and unjust, because everyone knows his engineer father and graphic designer mother did all the work.

For the last several weeks, we’ve been talking about hope as we've studied 1 Corinthians 15.  Our hope is in Jesus Christ.  Because of Him, we know where our life is headed.  Our destiny is so incredible, it by far outweighs the very worst that can happen in this life.  Yet if we’re not careful, our hope can turn into triumphalism.  We can become like little Timmy: arrogant, self-righteous hypocrites who look down on the rest of the world because we’re headed for Heaven…when the cold truth is, we didn’t do anything to deserve this hope we have.  So what is the point of it all?  What difference should this hope make in the way we live?  That’s what v. 58 is about.  We'll explore v. 58 this Sunday in my sermon, and talk about how our hope should change the way we live. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Books to Recommend

Someone asked me Sunday if I had any good books to recommend.  As a matter of fact, I have read three books recently that made a significant impact on me:

Who is This Man, by John Ortberg is excellent.  It was a tough one to put down.  Ortberg looks at the remarkable impact that Jesus made on our world.  Reading this book, I was struck by how, even if I didn't believe Jesus was the Son of God, I would not be able to deny the fact that He is the single most influential person in human history; pretty amazing for a homeless Jewish teacher from 2000 years ago.  This is the best book on Jesus I've read since The Jesus I Never Knew, by Philip Yancey (more on him below).

The Searchers, by Joseph Loconte.  No, this isn't the John Wayne movie, although that's one of my personal favorites.  It's the story of the two men who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  Loconte takes that story of two men searching for spiritual truth and brings it into the present day.  This is a very well-written book that is a pleasure to read.   It's also a great book to give to a non-Christian who is asking spiritual questions.

Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller.  Keller's book is written for non-ministers who wonder how to do their job in a way that is honoring to God.  As always, Keller makes some great, thought-provoking points. 

One more that I HAVEN'T read:

The Question That Never Goes Away, by Philip Yancey. This book was written after the Newtown shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing, and explores the old question of why God allows such things to happen.  I haven't read the book yet but I list it here for three reasons: 1) Yancey is my favorite author, and all of his books are worth your time.  2) This is the question that he has explored time and again in his writing.  He never fails to shed life on this difficult topic.  3) For a limited time, you can get the book (which hasn't even been released by the publisher yet) for $7.99 on electronic devices only. 

You 2.0

Three guys were drinking coffee together one morning, and the conversation took an uncharacteristically profound turn as one of them asked, “What do you want your family and friends to say when they’re standing around your casket someday?”  He then said, “As for me, I want them to say, ‘He taught me how live.  I’m a better person because of him.’”  The second guy said, “I want them to say, ‘I could always count on him.  He never let me down.’”  The third guy thought a while, then said, “I want them to say, ‘Hey, look!  He’s moving!’”
            I’m with that third guy.  Yet medical science and the Bible both tell me that I will die someday.  Our hope tells us that the third guy will get his wish…if he’s in Christ Jesus, his death is not final, and ours isn’t either.  Last week, we talked about how our ultimate hope isn't that our souls will go somewhere apart from our bodies; ultimately, it’s about being resurrected in a physical, bodily form to live on a New Earth.   I know one major question we all have is, “What sort of bodies will we have in Heaven?”  On one hand, this question betrays our vanity.  We live in a world where countless women would give anything to look like the airbrushed supermodels we see on a magazine cover, where men waste thousands of dollars on fitness equipment, in a vain hope they will magically look like the guy on the P90X commercial.  So when we ask questions about Heaven, some of it is rooted in a desire to look the way we’ve always wanted.  We want to believe that in Heaven, we’ll be able to eat chicken-fried bacon and Blue Bell without getting lovehandles.  But on a deeper level, it speaks to our desire for hope.  It is hard to hope in that which you cannot comprehend.  If God simply said, “Trust me on this one, you’ll have new bodies in Heaven, but I can’t give you any more details,” it would be hard to feel hopeful.  We’d still have questions, like, “Will I look like myself in Heaven?  Will I recognize my friends and loved ones?  What sorts of abilities will my new body have?  Will I still get sick, get hurt, get older, and die a second time?”  Fortunately, His Word has something to say about what our bodies will be like.

This Sunday, we'll look once again at 1 Corinthians 15, and see what sorts of bodies we can look forward to. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Westbury 20/20: Now What?

As you probably know by now, last Sunday morning this church voted to approve the plan for future growth and outreach that was proposed by the Westbury 20/20 team.  There were 315 ballots cast on eight proposals.  One proposal received 84% approval.  Another received 88% approval, and the rest were all over 90%.  So today, I need to say three things to you, our church family.

               First of all, thank you.  Thank you to the members of the 20/20 team for your vision and hard work and courage.  Thank you to my fellow ministers for showing those same qualities every day.  Thank you to the church family for your difficult questions, your honesty in expressing concerns, your trust in us and your willingness to take some uncomfortable, somewhat scary steps to position ourselves to reach people we’re not currently reaching. I can’t overstate this.  In far too many churches, if a pastor proposes change—especially change to the worship service and the sanctuary—he might as well start looking for another job.  I feel very, very grateful to be pastor of this church. 

               Second, I want to speak to those who feel very anxious about all of this.  Some of you voted no.  Some of you voted “yes,” but have real misgivings about what this is all going to mean.  I realize that change and growth aren’t easy or painless, so I understand your feelings.  In fact, I share your concerns.  Every member of this church is valuable, not just the people we haven’t reached yet.  In the future, when you have concerns or questions, please feel free to talk to me or another staff member.  As families go, we're a big one, but we are a family still, and you matter to us.

               Third, now the real work begins!  These eight proposals aren’t all going to get done in the next few weeks.  My fellow ministers and I are presently working on a list of action steps to get these proposals accomplished in the most effective way possible, and we will let you know when we need your help.  For now, here’s what you can do:

               You can get ready.  We will need many people in this church who don’t currently have a ministry to embrace one over the days to come.  Some will be needed in the nursery.  Some will be needed as greeters.  Some will be needed as leaders or behind-the-scenes workers in our new worship service.  And there are dozens of other volunteer needs that will arise as we go.  Pray about how you can be a part of this process of growth. 

               You can give.  Our church budget needs your continued faithful giving, but nothing about 20/20 will be in our new budget.  So for those of you who feel led to give over and above your regular tithe, our finance committee has set up a designated account.  This account will fund expenses that come up this year related to operational part of 20/20, like expenses involved in the new worship service, new small groups, etc.  It will also raise funds to purchase the new sign or screen. If you have a preference which of these projects your designated gift goes toward, feel free to let us know on your check.  Or just write, “Westbury 20/20” in the memo line, and we’ll use it where it’s needed most.    

               Most of all, you can pray.  Pray that our church is unified as we move forward.  Whenever a church does something to reach out, the Devil doesn’t like it.  He is going to try to divide us; you can count on that.  But greater is He who is in us than He who is in the world.  Pray that we would reach new people and lead the lost to saving faith and the saved to spiritual growth.  Most of all, pray for the Holy Spirit to revive us, to give us a hunger for more of Him and a passion for the lost. 
               Once again, thank you for agreeing to go on this journey.  I am excited about the future of Westbury Baptist Church!

Hope: Where Are We Headed?

Last week, someone sent me a list of the best country song titles ever.  Here you go:       

“Her Teeth Were Stained, But Her Heart Was Pure”

“How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?”

“I Wouldn't Take Her To A Dawg Fight, Cause I'm Afraid She'd Win”

“If My Nose Were Full Of Nickels, I'd Blow It All On You”

“If You Don't Leave Me Alone, I'll Go And Find Someone Else Who Will”

“My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend, And I Sure Do Miss Him”

“Thank God And Greyhound She's Gone”

“I'm So Miserable Without You It's Like Having You Here”

And my personal favorite…

“You're The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”

            Do you ever get the feeling your life has become a country song?  That’s why we need hope!  When life gets difficult, the world doesn’t offer us many options: Blame someone else.  Sue someone else.  Complain about your misery.  Or think to yourself, “Well, at least it can’t get any worse.”  But the Gospel offers us hope.  Hope is having something to look forward to, something that will make the tough times worth it.  We’re in a series on hope, studying 1 Corinthians 15.  This Sunday, we'll study vv. 20-28, which talk about what we have to look forward to after this life.   
            A few years ago, my family was on a vacation in the Hill Country, and I was driving us on that section of highway known as The Devil’s Backbone.  It’s really beautiful, and I was thoroughly enjoying the scenery, until I looked at my wife and realized she was turning green.  Carrie has a tendency toward motion sickness, and all those ups and downs of the Devil’s Backbone did her in.  Someone told us later that if Carrie is driving, she won’t get car sick.  The theory goes that if you are driving, your body instinctively knows where you’re going and can anticipate dramatic changes in course.  We don’t know if that’s true or not; I doubt I will ever get Carrie back to the Devil’s Backbone to test it out.  But it makes sense.  And I know it’s true in life: Life is better when you know where you’re going.  This isn’t about being an optimist; it’s not continually saying, “I just believe things are going to get better.”  It’s being certain about where your life is ultimately headed, that no matter how bad things get, you are headed somewhere wonderful.  So what is our hope? Where are we headed?  We'll talk about it Sunday. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What the World Is Looking For

One of my favorite websites is, the internet movie database.  On imdb, you can look up any movie ever made, no matter how obscure, and learn anything you could possibly want to know about it.  Yes, many has been the evening I’ve been watching a movie with my family, and thanks to imdb I was able to tell them amazing facts that made their movie watching experience so much more meaningful.  They usually respond by saying something affectionate and grateful like, “Dad, please put your smartphone down and just watch the movie.”  On imdb, users can rate movies on a scale of 1 to 10, and there is a constantly updating list of the 500 most highly rated movies of all time.  One movie has been number one on the list for years.  Over a million people have visited the site to rate it at 9.3 out of 10.  It’s not Citizen Kane or Casablanca or The Godfather.  By this standard, the most beloved movie in history is The Shawshank Redemption. Numerous articles have been written about why a movie about a prison in Maine in the 1940s, a movie that is at times very brutal in content, a film that wasn’t commercially successful when it was released, is so beloved today.  The general consensus is that it’s because The Shawshank Redemption is a movie about hope, and that is what the world is looking for.  
            There’s a running dialogue in the film between the narrator, Red, and the main character, Andy Dufresne, about hope.  Red has been in prison most of his life, and he tells Andy there’s no room for hope in prison.  Hope can break your heart, drive you insane.  Far better to just accept your fate in this lonely, cruel, miserable world.  But Andy says hope is the one thing the world can’t take from you.  In one of the movie’s most famous quotes, he tells Red, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”  All this year, we’ve been talking about representing Christ in a non-Christian culture.  We live in a world full of people just like Red.  They’re longing for something to hope in, but they’ve been burned too many times.  If we want to represent Christ well, perhaps the best thing we can do is to show them there is real hope. For the next five weeks, we’ll be looking at one of the greatest chapters in the entire Bible, 1 Corinthians 15.  If you were sent to a nation with no Scripture whatsoever and could only smuggle in one chapter of the Bible, this might be the one.  This Sunday, we'll begin by looking at the message of hope, the truths that are "of first importance," that set people free.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Source of Faith

If you were advising a teenager or a young adult on how to live a happy and meaningful life, what advice would you give?  You might point to the people we often look to as models of success, to celebrities and athletes and CEOs.  In that case, you would advise this young person to take very good care of his body and his physical appearance, to establish connections that will enable him to advance in his chosen career field, and to work very, very hard, to be ruthless in promoting himself at the expense of all others, always with an eye to reach the top.  But of course, when you look closely at the lives of these so-called successful people, very few of them seem to be happy.  So you might tell this young person to find something he really loves doing and do that work to the best of his ability.  That seems like good advice, but it doesn’t say anything about relationships with people.  So you might then tell your young protégé to make sure he marries the right person, or if he chooses to remain single, to invest in one or two very fulfilling friendships.  But I can tell you by experience, as someone who definitely married the right person, no man or woman can bear the burden of making you completely happy.  That is far too much to expect from any human relationship.  Just to be clear: Attaining success, loving your work, and having a happy marriage are all good things, but they are not enough…even if you have all three. 
If you really want to give your young friend good advice, you will tell him that the most important thing about him is that he was created for a relationship with God.  In order to know God and experience God’s plan for his life, he has to trust God, answer His call and obey Him. That takes faith.  We’ve been talking about faith this month.  We started by looking at the journey of faith, how life consists of a series of turning points where we either trust God enough to obey or we do things our own way.  We then talked about the call of faith, and how God occasionally calls us to make big changes in our lives, and if we disobey Him, we get out of fellowship with Him.  But there are people who believe that faith is something you either have or you don’t; it’s like being tall.  This Sunday, we'll talk about where faith really comes from.  If the key to living a meaningful life is to know God and follow His plan, how can we have that kind of faith?
We’re going to look Sunday at one of the most inspirational passages in the Bible: Hebrews 12:1-3.  In the movies, whenever a commander sends his warriors out to battle, or a coach gets his players ready for the big game, there’s always a big, stirring speech.  These three verses trump them all.  And they show us how to gain the kind of faith that leads to the life God planned for us. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Call of Faith

A friend of mine was playing basketball one day.  He landed, took a couple of dribbles and collapsed; people playing with him thought he’d had a heart attack, but instead he had done something awful to his back.  For days after that, he was utterly useless.  He tried going to work and school, but he just couldn’t function.  The spine is a very important part of your body.  When we have dysfunction or pain in one part of the body--a sore throat, a bad knee, or a broken toe--we can usually gut it out, overcome it.  But the spine is like the hub of the body; everything is connected to that.  So my friend found himself lying in bed for days, popping pain pills and hoping it would go away.  This was a guy in his early twenties, by the way.  But, as he told me later, at that point he felt like he was 120 years old.  He was utterly feeble.  Walking to the bathroom required a herculean effort.  He started to get depressed, wondering if things would be bedridden for the rest of his life.  Then one day, one of his pillows fell off the bed.  He leaned over to pick it up, partially twisting his body as he did, and heard a loud CRACK.  That was a terrifying sound, but he immediately felt relief.  The next day he went off to work and school and was just fine.  I think about that story whenever I have back pain; unfortunately, I have never been able to twist my body just right…and no, I am not soliciting your recommendations for a good chiropractor.  The point of that story is this: In the same way the spine is the hub of the body, our relationship with God is the key to every other part of our lives.  If we are out of alignment with God’s plans for us, it is going to affect us in profound ways.  We may try to numb that pain or distract ourselves by focusing on other things, but nothing will bring joy and peace until we get right with Him.   
            In the month of July, I'm preaching about faith.  This Sunday, we'll be looking at the faith that is required to answer God's call on your life.  This message is intended for three different kinds of people.  First are those who feel that God is calling to a major change in vocation.  The second group are people who know God is calling them to a major change in character.  And the third group is those who God is preparing for His next big call on our lives.  I have news for you: The God we serve does not rest.  He is either leading you through a major change or He's getting you ready for one.  So how do we insure that we will not miss out on the call of God?  Sunday, we'll take a look at the call of Elisha from 1 Kings 19:19-21.  We'll see what he was being called to do, what he had to leave behind, how God called him, and how he responded.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Journey of Faith

Late last year, a 75-year old woman named Marion Shurtleff bought a Bible in a used bookstore in San Clemente, California.  When she got home, she found some folded sheets of notebook paper tucked inside the Bible.  As she unfolded the yellowed paper, she saw that it was a child’s handwriting, and she was struck by how familiar that handwriting looked.  She found the first page and saw the name at the top, and began to cry.  It was an essay that she had written to win a merit badge in Girl Scouts.  It was written 65 years before, when she was a 10-year old girl…in Kentucky.  No one knows how this essay made its way into a stranger’s Bible and traveled across the United States, but for Marion Shurtleff, it was an amazing gift; a treasure that unlocked a thousand childhood memories long forgotten.  And she found it in the pages of a Bible. 
The great thing about that story is that we all have the chance to find our story in these pages.  The men and women whose lives are recorded here were normal people, just like us.  They struggled with the same problems, weaknesses, and temptations that we do today.  So when we read their stories, let’s not see them as legendary figures or spiritual superheroes.  Let’s see what we can learn from their experiences. What do they teach us?   
This year, I’ve been preaching about representing Christ in a non-Christian culture.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be talking about faith.  We think of faith as belief; believing in a certain set of doctrines, or believing that God is going to work a miracle if we ask Him in just the right way.  But faith is really a series of decisions we make over the course of a lifetime.  In each of these moments, these turning points, we have to choose whether to obey God’s plan or not.  No one in Scripture bears this out better than Abraham.  This Sunday, we'll look at his story, and what it teaches us about the journey of faith. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Redeeming the Time

Michael Jordan: "Failure."

Years ago, when Michael Jordan was still playing basketball, he appeared in a shoe commercial (Click the link above to view the thirty-second spot). But this time, instead of showing slam dunks and fist-pumping, it showed Jordan getting out of his car before a game, while he said the following in voice-over: “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  The point I took from the spot is that while he missed often, at least he took the shot.  While he lost sometimes, at least he played the game.  From the standpoint of Kingdom work, the real tragedy is not when we try something great for God and fail; it’s when we fail to try.  How often do you and I have the ball in our hands with the clock ticking down…and we hold the ball, afraid to shoot, afraid to fail…until the buzzer sounds.  We're afraid to engage someone who needs the Gospel, because we know it will be awkward and uncomfortable to talk about spiritual things.  We ignore someone with serious physical or emotional needs because we just don't want to get involved.  Or God brings someone into our orbit, and we don’t even think to see them as someone who needs the love of Christ.  We're so caught up in our own stuff, we see them as simply people to deal with quickly so we can move on to the next item on our agenda.

We’ve been studying the book of Colossians for a month and a half now, and we’ve learned a lot about being holy; being different in a way that draws people to God.  Now we are at the end of the letter.  Paul just has his final greetings to specific people after this; what we’ll read this Sunday (4:2-6) is the last thing he says to the whole church.  For his final word, Paul tells us to be careful so that we don’t miss those moments when God passes us the ball.  Look at the second half of v. 5, making the most of the opportunity. The Greek literally says “redeeming the time.”  He's talking about what some have called "divine appointments." 

I like the way Henry Blackaby puts it in Experiencing God: Whenever you encounter someone who shows an interest in spiritual matters, drop whatever you are doing and spend as much time as necessary with that person.  We are not spiritual creatures by nature, so if a person is interested in spiritual things, that means the Holy Spirit is working on them right now.  God has just passed you the ball, and it’s your chance to do something wonderful.  But what can we do in order to be ready for these moments, so we don’t miss these opportunities?  That's what we'll talk about this Sunday.