Thursday, May 30, 2013

Our Mission

I wish someone would write a book about the goofy traditions certain churches have that just defy explanation.  I read once about a Lutheran church in Minnesota that was furious with their new pastor because he didn’t touch the radiator (space heater) before he served communion. He told them he had never heard of that as part of the Communion liturgy.  He even spoke to some of his seminary professors, none of whom had ever heard of such a thing.  One even told him he might have stumbled onto some strange Scandinavian sect (The Church of the Holy Radiator?).  In desperation, the young man decided to call his predecessor, who was enjoying his retirement.  When the old man heard the story, he laughed uncontrollably.  When he finally regained composure, he said, “It gets cold in Minnesota, and on those cold days, I was afraid I would shock the first person who came to receive communion. So before I called them forward, I would touch the radiator to discharge any static.  I had no idea they would turn that into a tradition.” 
Closer to home, there are churches that believe it’s wrong to use musical instruments in church, because they aren’t mentioned in the New Testament.  Now, these are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I love fact, I look forward to seeing them in Heaven someday, and especially look forward to seeing their expressions of surprise when they see me there!  But I must confess: It seems silly to me to base a doctrine on what’s NOT mentioned in Scripture.  Many things aren’t mentioned in the New Testament, including pants; I doubt we want to follow that logic.  At any rate, years ago in another town, I used to lead a worship service at a nursing home on Tuesday afternoons.  The director of the nursing home was a member of one of these churches.  Still, she would come out every Tuesday and help me lead the singing (believe me, I needed the help).  Since we had a pianist accompanying us, I figured maybe she was more open-minded than her fellow church members.  So when Christmas was approaching, I invited her to sing in our community choir.  She had a lovely voice, and we were going to have people from every church in town except hers, so why not?  She said, “We don’t believe in singing in church with instruments.”  I was baffled.  It was okay to sing about Jesus with a piano in a nursing home, but that same situation inside a church building was sin?  Huh?
It makes me wonder how much stuff WE do in our church that really has no purpose.  The best way to answer that question is to determine what our true purpose is.  We’re continuing to look at Colossians, a guidebook to holy living.  This Sunday, we'll take a look at Colossians 1:24-29.  In this passage, I believe Paul tells us what our purpose, our true mission, is as a church.  And maybe as we study together, we'll hear the Holy Spirit reveal some goofy stuff we do that needs to be set aside.  Or even better, some important stuff we need to start doing. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Glory of Christ

In 1927, the famous director Cecil B. DeMille filmed his epic story of the life of Jesus, The King of Kings.  He chose English actor HB Warner for the role of Jesus.  Warner is best known today as Mr. Gower, the druggist in It’s a Wonderful Life. DeMille wanted to make sure that Warner projected a completely holy image to the world.  So he made him sign a contract that said for five years, he wouldn’t appear in any roles that would harm his image as Jesus.  Every day, he was driven to the movie set in a car with the windows blacked out, and he wore a veil.  No one was allowed to speak to him off set aside from the director.  He was forbidden from going to ball games or night clubs, playing cards, swimming or riding in convertibles.  Did all of these restrictions make Warner a genuinely holy man?  No.  During filming, he was involved in a scandalous relationship with a woman who threatened to ruin the movie, until the DeMille paid her to keep quiet.  And Warner later said the pressure of playing Jesus drove him back into alcoholism.  That’s what it’s like when we try to become holy by simply following rules and being religious.  It doesn’t work; in fact, it can make us legalistic and hateful, which is a warped perversion of holiness.  
            Last Sunday, we looked at the life of Daniel, a man whose holiness changed two empires.  True holiness is one of the most compelling things you will ever see.  But how do we live that way?  For the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at Colossians.  Why Colossians?  Well, look at Colossians 1:9-12.  That is Paul’s prayer for the Christians in the town of Collosse, and the reason why he wrote this letter.  You might say the book of Colossians is a guide to living a life of irresistible holiness.  So how does Paul begin in leading us to the holy life?  By describing Jesus in 1:15-23.  Why would He do this?  We’ll get to that this week.  This is an amazing, majestic, awe-inspiring text.  We could spend weeks on this, but we’re going to fly through it in a half hour.  This passage tells us four very controversial things about Jesus.  Then it tells us why knowing Jesus will change your life.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Power of a Holy Life

In the summer of my 15th year, I asked my parents if I could go visit my uncle Tim.  Tim was ten years older than me, which meant when I was 8 years old, he was a senior in high school.  To me, he was a kid, but one who got to do cool things like drive a car, play on the football team, and hang out with other teenagers.  Even better, he paid attention to me.  In the years since then, Tim had gone off to college, gotten married, and had gone to seminary in Ft Worth to prepare for the ministry.  So my parents drove me to Austin, where they put me on a bus bound for Ft Worth.  It was the first big trip I had ever taken on my own.  I spent a week there with my aunt and uncle and their friends, all of whom were seminary students or their spouses.  At the end of that week, I made a decision.  I didn’t know any people my age who were like my uncle and his friends, but when I went off to college, I would seek out people like that.  That decision changed my life.  When I got to UH, I immediately joined the Baptist Student Ministry.  There’s this idea with a lot of Christians that if you let your kid go off to a state college, he’ll lose his faith.  That certainly wasn’t the case for me; my faith in Christ came of age during my time there.  Best of all, I met my wife, Carrie, there.  As it turns out, that week in Ft Worth was one of the defining moments of my young life.
            What was it about my uncle and his friends that was so influential?  We didn’t have any deep conversations that I can remember.  We talked about sports, music, movies…the same stuff most people talk about.  All I can say is that those young men and women were different from any of the young people I knew back home.  They were different in a way that made me want what they had, and it made me want to know their God better.  That, to me, is holiness.  Now, I know the term “holy” is not a word we usually associate with attractiveness.  I rarely meet anyone who says, “I sure would like to be more holy.”  We associate holiness with fat, red-faced preachers who tell everyone they’re going to Hay-ell and that God is happy about that fact, or with old women who wear their hair in a tight bun and scowl at anyone who looks like they might be enjoying life.  But I believe that a truly holy life is the most compelling, attractive thing you’ll ever see.  It is the best advertisement for Jesus Christ in the world.  As we continue to talk about representing our Lord in a non-believing culture, we have to talk about what it means to be holy.  This Sunday, I want to look at the life of a man so holy, he changed two different empires.  I want you to consider whether or not you want to live such a life.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Defending Your Faith

Several years ago, the movie Taken was an unexpected hit.  In the film, a teenaged girl is kidnapped while traveling in Europe.  Fortunately, her father (played by Liam Neeson) is an ex-CIA operative who has "a special set of skills" that make rescuing his daughter possible.  I think the movie's success is in part due to the fact that many men (who often drive movie-going decisions) feel a tremendous responsibility to protect their loved ones.  As we watch Brian, the father, kill seemingly half of Eastern Europe with his bare hands in pursuit of his child, we feel a vicarious thrill. Along with that responsibility, many of us men feel a nagging insecurity.  Most of us don't have "a special set of skills."  As I told my daughter once in an attempt to encourage her to be careful around strangers, "I'm not the Dad from Taken.  I'm the Dad who gets killed trying to save you."

We as Christians have a responsibility to defend our faith.  But most of us feel highly unqualified to do that, especially in a culture where it is more and more popular to attack Christian beliefs.  Now I want to make something clear: I have a friend who is an atheist.  We’ve had lunch together, and we send each other messages from time to time.  I pray for his salvation.  He’s a little older than me, and very committed to his atheism, but he respects my beliefs and my right to do what I do.  He just doesn’t want any of his tax dollars going to support or promote my beliefs.  There are plenty of people out there like my friend.  But today, increasing numbers of atheists, agnostics and other irreligious people feel that the world needs to rid itself of religion entirely.  Inspired by several best-selling authors, they have an evangelistic zeal to disparage, discourage, and utterly defeat faith wherever they see it.  I suspect most of you know what I’m talking about; you’ve experienced it.  Someone has tried to make you feel ridiculous for your beliefs: a neighbor, a boss, a co-worker, a relative, a professor, a classmate.  The question I want us to explore is, how do we respond to these kinds of attacks?  I’ve been preaching for several weeks now on boldness, and I want to end the series this Sunday by talking about how to boldly represent Christ in the presence of those who mock our faith.  We'll be looking at 1 Peter 3:15-16, written to a group of Christians who lived in a culture far more hostile to their faith than ours.