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. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

From Slaves to Sons

This isn't the Dennis the Menace I saw back then.  But it's a good one! 

Years ago, when I had only been preaching for a little while, I read Dennis the Menace in my daily newspaper, and I felt like it was speaking to me.  In the comic strip, Dennis and his parents were walking out of church, and the pastor was greeting them at the door. Dennis looked up at the pastor and said, “Why don’t you ever tell us we did something right?”  Let me tell you why that spoke to me.  I have been in church most Sundays for my entire life.  I did the math. I figure by the time I started preaching myself, I had already heard somewhere between 1500 and 2000 sermons.  Frankly, most of them I daydreamed through, but some stuck out.  Some grabbed me.  The ones that grabbed me were invariably the ones that challenged me, that motivated me to change something.  So when I felt called to preach, I wanted to make sure that every time I preached, I challenged the people in the pews to change.  But as Dennis the Menace says, if I overdo that, it can feel like a weekly beating.  I didn’t want people who hear my sermons every week to think they are awful people who are a severe disappointment to God.  That comic strip was a reminder to me: People need good news.  

  This Sunday, I’m going to give you some very good news; Three pieces of exceptionally good news, to be precise.  But I am also going to ask you a question, and the purpose of that question is to make sure this good news isn’t just something you hear about; it’s something that is reality in your life. We’re in a series about God’s grace, and God’s grace is the best news you’ve ever heard, even if most of us don’t seem to realize it.  This Sunday, I want to look at three words that should change your life.