Thursday, December 18, 2014

There Will Be No End

Good grief!  I was such a blockhead...

I remember my first Christmas as a married man.  We were visiting my parents.  I was walking in the pasture with my dad and brother, and we came across a little grove of cedar trees.  I said, “It would be really cool if we could cut down one of these for our apartment.”  So we did.  I came walking back to the house dragging our first Christmas tree.  How awesome was I?  We didn’t spend a dime for that tree, and it was much more special than anything we could’ve gotten from one of those Christmas tree lots.  But when we got the tree into our apartment in Houston, it looked awfully small.  It wouldn’t even hold most of our ornaments.  My sweet young wife didn’t say anything, but the first time one of my friends saw it, he said, “You got Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree!” 

I think a lot of us get suckered in by Christmas every year.  This is the year I’m going to buy the perfect gift for the people I love.  They’ll open it, and their face will light up, and I’ll know that they love me now more than ever before.  This is the year my long-lost loved one will come home.  This is the year we’ll be able to get through dinner without arguing.  In fact, we’ll apologize to each other and hug it out. Our Christmas songs, movies and commercials all make us think it’s possible, because magical stuff is supposed to happen at Christmas.  I get that Red Ryder BB gun, or luxury car with a big red bow on it.  My lousy miser uncle becomes a new man and shows up for Christmas dinner in a good mood.  My redneck cousin kidnaps my boss, and instead of arresting me, the boss gives me a bonus big enough for me to install a pool.  Like Charlie Brown, we think this will finally be the year we kick the football, but every year, Christmas pulls that ball away from us, and we end up flat on our backs.  The post-Christmas blues are a terrible thing.  The season is over, work starts again tomorrow, and you’re surrounded by dirty dishes, gifts that need exchanging, and unpaid bills.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  

During this Advent season, we’ve been looking at Isaiah 9, a passage that’s familiar to us from Christmas cards and carols.  It promised that a King was coming; a very different kind of King who would change the world forever.  We looked at vv. 1-5, which told us about the world we live in, and why we need this King.   Last Sunday, we looked at v. 6, which told us what kind of King He is.  And v. 7 tells us His agenda; this is what the King will accomplish.  This Sunday, four days before Christmas, we'll take a look at something that doesn’t disappoint.  We’re not trusting in some magical, mystical “Christmas spirit.”  We’re trusting in the King who was born that first Christmas.  We'll talk about what He is accomplishing in the world since His birth.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Name Above All Names

When I was in college, one of my roommates was a huge music fan.  He had hundreds of vinyl records (the only proper way to listen to music, in his opinion), and his brain was a treasure trove of rock and roll information.  One day, he discovered a song by a band he had never heard of.  It was a melancholy song about the girl who got away.  He bought the song and played it often.  When someone would come to our room, he would say, “Have you heard this? You need to hear it.” Then he would play it again. He said, “I feel like a born-again Christian.  I just can’t stop telling people about this song.”  I was the only one in that dorm room who would have called himself a born-again Christian, so at first I thought he was making fun of me.  But then I realized; his dad had been an irreligious man who had, just a few years before, met Jesus and been totally transformed.  Now he was a preacher.  So my roommate knew what being born again looked like, even if it hadn’t happened to him. The happy ending of that story is that my friend did indeed eventually come to know Jesus in a personal way, and is today an outstanding follower of the Lord.  But here is the point of that story: Years later, when Carrie and I were expecting our first child, we had already decided on the name if it was a boy.  William Carey was the name of a great hero of mine, an English preacher who was the father of the modern missionary movement.  Besides, William is my brother’s name, and Carey is a name I just like (for some random reason).  But we couldn’t agree on a girl’s name.  I brought up that song that my college roommate had liked so much.  The name of the girl in the song was Kayleigh.  Carrie liked that; Kay and Lee are both family names in her family.  So we had names for both genders, and God gave us the opportunity to use both.  

If you have kids, perhaps you have stories of where their names come from.  In our culture, we name kids after relatives, after celebrities, and after fictional characters.  Some names are chosen because we like the way they sound.  And some names seem to be formed from a losing hand of Scrabble.  But in biblical times, names always meant something.  They revealed character.  A parent would name a child based on his hopes for that child, or what he was feeling when they were born.  If the child’s character turned out to be different from his name, they would change the name to fit his character.  For instance, there was a man in 1 Samuel named Nabal, which means “fool.”  I doubt his parents gave him that name...he had to earn it.  Given all that, when God calls Himself by a particular name in Scripture, we know it’s meaningful.  He is trying to tell us something specific and important about Himself.  Isaiah 9:6 is a verse we know well from Christmas cards and Handel’s Messiah.  But what does it tell us about Jesus?  This Sunday, I'll continue our look at Isaiah 9 by walking through the four names of the Messiah. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Note: This is an excerpt of the introduction to my Christmas devotional.  If you'd like a copy, email me at  The cost is a donation of $10 or more to our World Missions Offering.  You can mail a check to Westbury Baptist, 10425 Hillcroft, Houston, Tx 77096 or donate online at  

As a preacher and occasional writer, it is hard for me to admit this, but here goes: There is a power in music that the spoken and written word cannot match.  I’ll prove it to you: Can you remember a specific sentence from something you read recently, either a book, a magazine article, or something online?  Can you quote exactly anything that has been said in the past month by your pastor, the President, or (gasp!) your spouse?  Probably not.  But I’ll bet you can remember the lyrics to hundreds of songs you knew decades ago; the theme songs of your childhood TV shows; the tunes you danced and air-guitared to as a teenager; the songs that blared from your car stereo on hot summer days. 
            This time of year is full of songs; Songs about Grinches, snowmen, chestnuts roasting and red-nosed reindeer…and wise men, angels, and a little town called Bethlehem.  They all compete for a spot in our mental playlist, their lyrics jangling around in our distracted brains from the time we wake up until the time we drop off to sleep, visions of sugar plums (or credit card bills) dancing in our heads.  But what might happen if, this year, we stop and listen to those words?  The power of music isn’t just that it’s so memorable.  Sometimes a song can change your entire world. But that only happens if you listen.
            That’s what I hope to do with this devotional.  After an introduction on the first day’s reading (December 1), we’ll look at a line from my favorite Christmas carol every day until Christmas Day.  On each day’s reading, I included Scripture references and my own thoughts inspired by those lines.  On most days, I’ve also suggested a specific way you can pray in response to what we learn.  My prayer for you is that you would not just see “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in a new way, but that you would have a fresh encounter with the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Reason for Thanksgiving

...Cause that's just how I roll!

 You may have thought, based on the sermon title, that I would come out this Sunday in a pilgrim costume and tell the story of the origins of Thanksgiving in America.  You know, the awful winter the pilgrims had when they landed here, and how the native Americans helped them learn to plant, and the feast they celebrated together.  As appealing as that idea might be from the standpoint of embarrassing my kids, I think there are better ways to spend a half-hour on a Sunday morning.  Instead, I want to ask why God wants us to be thankful in the first place.  Because, ironically, Thanksgiving may be the most distinctively Christian holiday we celebrate.  After all, nowhere in Scripture are we told to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  That tradition of observing Advent and Christmas didn’t even begin until centuries after Christ.  As for Easter, Christians immediately began worshipping on Sunday, because that was the day Christ rose from the dead.  They called it “The Lord’s Day.”  But nowhere in Scripture did Jesus say, “You’d better celebrate my resurrection every Spring.  Let that be the magical moment every year when women can start wearing white.  Make sure you hide eggs.  And of course, you’d better include a bunny.”  So there’s no biblical mandate for Christmas or Easter, but God commands us, over and over again, to give Him thanks. 

Does that seem odd to anyone else?  My parents taught me to say “thank you,” when I was a little boy.  When I was a senior in high school, our English teacher Mrs. Bland even taught us the proper way to write a thank you note, since we would soon be racking up all these senior gifts.  But never did my parents or anyone else say, “You’d better thank me, buster, or I’m going to take it all away!”  That would have seemed selfish and weird.  So why does God insist we say thank you to Him?  This Sunday, I want to look at some of what God says in Scripture regarding gratitude, then talk about why He wants thankfulness from us.  Finally, I have a challenge for you this coming week.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What We Shall Be

This Sunday, we wrap up our series on the grace of God.  Outside the Bible, I believe the best book on grace I’ve ever read was What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey.  I recommend that book unreservedly.  Yancey has just come out with another book on grace, called Vanishing Grace.  Near the beginning, he writes, “In my lifelong study of the Bible I have looked for an overarching theme, a summary statement of what the whole sprawling book is about. I have settled on this: “God gets his family back.” Think about that for a moment.  The Bible begins with the story of God giving us life, placing us in a perfect world to thrive and enjoy His presence.  Then we rejected it all, chose to see what sort of world we could make apart from God, His love, and His will for our lives.  What we ended up with was a warped and broken world, along with estrangement from God.  The rest of the Bible is about God’s attempts to bring us back into His family, to redeem the world we ruined.  What would He be willing to do?  Would He send His best followers to plead with us, even though we would reject them all, killing some?  Would He work amazing miracles?  Would He inspire the writing of a book that tells of His love and plan for us?  Yes, He would.  But none of it was enough.  So He went even further, becoming a man so that He could destroy our sin by drinking the cup of His own wrath.  Would God send Himself to Hell so that we would not miss out on Heaven?  Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.  Would He then pursue us through His Holy Spirit, His Gospel message, and His army on earth, the church, until we turned back to Him?  Absolutely.   That’s the story of Scripture.  The last book of the Bible, Revelation, ends with God’s family reunited on a redeemed, perfect Earth. 

It’s amazing to realize that you and I fit somehow into the story of the universe.  Either you are a part of God’s family, waiting hopefully for the great family reunion yet to come, or you’re one of His lost children, still wandering in the darkness.  If you’re one of those lost children, God is hoping you’ll come home today.  But this Sunday, I will spend most of my time talking to people who are already home.  How are we supposed to live in the in-between time?  How should this knowledge of our future change the way we live in the present?  We'll be looking at 1 John 3:1-3.