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.