Wednesday, August 27, 2014

He is Worthy--Rev. 4-5

            Think about the last time you flew.  Did you find out beforehand what sort of credentials the pilot had?  Did you find out the last time he drank alcohol, or how much sleep he got the night before?  Did you even catch his name?  Yet you trusted him with your life.   
            Sometimes it seems like our world is completely out of control, or if someone is in control, they are not to be trusted.  Thankfully, we have the book of Revelation, the last and most controversial book in the Bible, and the only one that promises a blessing on anyone who reads it (Rev. 1:3).  I hope you’re taking the time to read slowly through this book during the week as I preach about it for the next several Sundays.  But keep in mind, this book wasn’t written so that we could watch the daily news and say, “Aha!  It’s exactly as God foretold.”  It was written first of all to a specific group of Christians who lived two thousand years ago in what is today Turkey. God wanted them to be ready for the times ahead, and for the day they would stand face to face with Him.  He wanted them to be aware that there is another world, a far more lasting world, beyond what we can see with our eyes. And He wanted them to be encouraged, that although things may seem dark now, there is a plan unfolding that we are privileged to be a part of.   
            As you probably know, there are some bizarre images in Revelation.  Bible scholars universally agree that God did not intend for us to take these literally.  It helps to be familiar with the rest of the Bible, because John will often use symbols that remind us of other Scriptural images, and that helps us understand what He was trying to say.  The people John was writing to knew the Scriptures, so some of these symbols would have been as familiar to them as common figures of speech are to us today.  So in order to understand, we need to put ourselves into the world of those first readers.  We’ll encounter several of these symbolic images in Revelation 4-5, the two chapters I’ll cover this Sunday.  I hope you'll be there, as we who is really in control of our world.  I promise you'll leave with a greater sense of reassurance. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Long--Awaited Return; Book of Revelation

This Sunday (August 24) I begin a study of the book of Revelation.  It is the last, perhaps the most famous, and definitely the most controversial book of the Bible.  Although it quotes from and references other biblical books, it is not like anything else in Scripture.  Although there were many other apocalyptic writings in the ancient world, Revelation is unlike anything in the history of literature.  In a time when our popular culture ignores the Bible or scoffs at it, there is still a fascination with this book.  Images from it are burned into our collective consciousness. Think about how often you hear terms that come from this book in everyday life: Armageddon, The Antichrist, 666, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Rapture.  There is a TV series on one of the premium cable networks right now about what might happen on Earth after a rapture-like event, and a movie version of the Left Behind book series is on tap to be released soon.  Clearly, people are still interested in what this book has to say.

In my opinion, Revelation is the most abused and misused book in the Bible. Irresponsible teaching on this book has caused the Church and the name of Christ no end of embarrassment.  So let me say this up front: I will not be predicting the date of Christ’s return.  I will not try to guess which nations are represented by the seven heads of the beast, or who the Antichrist is or will be.  If you’re hoping that after this sermon series you will understand completely all the events that are going to take place before the Return of Jesus, you will be disappointed. Think about it: When Jesus came into the world the first time, people had been expecting His coming for centuries. God had put predictions about the coming Messiah in nearly every book of the Old Testament, and God’s people had memorized, studied and turned inside-out every one of those predictions. Their constant hope was that they would live to see those promises fulfilled. And when He finally came, no one—not one single person—predicted how it would go.  No one thought He would be born in poverty; no one thought He would be a man of peace and reconciliation. No one thought He would be hated by His own people. No one thought He would be crucified for our sins. It was all there in the promises, but no one saw it.  Now, if those people couldn’t anticipate it perfectly, what gives us the idea that we will?  My guess is that after Jesus returns, we’ll be like His first apostles, looking back at the promises we know so well and saying, “Oh, so THAT’S what that meant!”

So why should we study this, if it’s impossible for us to completely, perfectly figure it out? That's an easy one: Because God put it in His Word.  More than that, He promised to bless those who read it (Revelation 1:3, the only such promise in the entire Bible).  Please pray for me as I enter this series.  I believe this book was meant to bring us hope, encouragement and a sense of urgency about our own purpose in life.  I pray I can communicate that effectively.  And take time to read the book for yourself over these next seven weeks.  I am excited to see what God will do in our lives as we explore this book!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What You Know For Sure

I came to Houston in August of 1988 to enroll in college.  I didn’t have any idea what the future held.  I was a smart kid, but I could never have predicted that before I graduated, the Cold War would suddenly end and the Berlin Wall would come down.  I had no idea that a decade later, a very different kind of enemy would bring down the World Trade Center on national television.  I didn’t know the Houston Oilers would leave, the Astrodome would sit for years as an empty, rotting hulk, and that for a while, the Rockets’ best player would be a 7 foot 6 Chinese guy.  I didn’t know that someday, TV cameras would record the daily lives of the kind of talentless, obnoxious, socially and morally deviant exhibitionists and show-offs that we usually avoid at all costs in real life, and millions of Americans would watch this and call it entertainment.  I didn’t know something called the internet would soon make dozens of things I took for granted irrelevant, from the home encyclopedia to the US Postal Service.  I didn’t know my kids would live in a world where their friends would use their phones to take pictures of themselves eating dessert, then use those same phones to send out those pictures to hundreds of people they barely know, or don’t know at all, then wait impatiently to see what the world thought of it all.  And I certainly didn’t know that my carefully planned career path was ridiculous, and that someday I would be pastoring a church. 
            We don’t know what life will hold.  In some ways that is exciting, but in many ways, it’s terrifying.  How many times has life pulled the rug out from under you, and something you thought was a sure thing turned out to be false?  There was a person you loved, and who you thought would love you forever, and then one day they were gone.  You took a job offer you thought was the best thing that ever happened to you, but within months or weeks, you were trying to escape it.  You thought you had put more than enough money into retirement to live comfortably for the rest of your life, and still leave plenty to your kids, but it evaporated seemingly overnight.  There was a loved one who you thought would always be there, and then one cold morning you stood at their graveside and wondered, “How am I going to live without you?”  If there’s one thing that seems to be certain in this world, it’s that you can’t be certain of anything.  Or can you?  There are some things that are certain in your life if you are a believer in Christ Jesus.  If you follow Him, Romans 8:9 promises that you have the Holy Spirit inside you.  For several weeks now, we've been talking about the difference the Spirit makes in our lives.  This Sunday, I'll conclude that series, with a look at what the assurance the Holy Spirit gives us.  We'll look at Romans 8, and discover what we can know for sure about life.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Options...we got options!

Since we started our new worship schedule in January, we've had two different worship services with an identical sermon.  But not this Sunday. 

In the 11:00 service, Disciple Now weekend will wrap up.  D-Now is an intense weekend of spiritual growth for our teenagers, including worship, small group Bible study, a local ministry project, and recreation.  The theme this year is "Identity."  Be in prayer for the students involved in D-Now, and get ready for worship led by guest worship leader Jake Fauber, and a message from our D-Now speaker, Joey Dodson. 

The 8:30 service will be more familiar.  I'm preaching a message (unconnected to my current series) called "Habits of Unspiritual People."  Here's a little preview:

A while back, I pondered preaching a series I was going to call, “The Biggest Losers of the Bible.”  I was going to talk about all the people the Bible presents as failures, negative examples who missed God's plan.  I had quite a list of characters.  Some were real villains, the type we like to boo and hiss at in the movies, like the Pharaoh in Exodus, Jezebel, Haman, and Caiaphas the high priest.  There were also people who were not necessarily evil incarnate, but for one reason or another they left God’s path, and paid for it.  These would include Cain and Judas, Ananias and Sapphira, among others.  King Saul belongs in that second group, too.  He’s definitely the bad guy in the story of David’s rise to the throne.  But he’s a pitiful figure.  We don’t hate him, we weep for him.  As I think about those big losers of the Bible, I see that they have some things in common.  This Sunday, we'll look at the story of Saul’s shocking fall, and talk about the characteristics of those who fail spiritually.

You may recall back in the early nineties Steven Covey wrote a book called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Businessmen and educators and pastors and all sorts of other people devoured this book, just as they devoured Jim Collins’ book Good to Great a few years ago.  The book was about the practices that separate mediocre people from successful ones.  One example I remember is that Covey said that whereas most of us hoard letters, memos, newspaper clippings and other clutter, effective people only touch a piece of paper once.  They read it, the deal with what it says, and they throw it away.  Covey’s ideas all seemed like small things, but he asserted that they made the difference between success and failure.  In the same way, people who fail spiritually often have many things in common with those who succeed in pleasing God.  But there are certain habits that spiritual losers have that lead to their downfall.  Looking at these people collectively, I want us to identify six habits of highly unspiritual people.