Thursday, May 28, 2015

Biblical Manhood

Recently, I saw an interesting article online.  It was titled, “Twenty-five Skills Every Man Should Know.”  I won’t run through the entire list, but here’s an example of some of the things this author thinks real men should be able to do: Skin a dead moose, cut down a tree, give a good massage (side note: if you’re a man and you’re offering massages to any woman other than your wife, no matter what a magazine says, you’re creepy), parallel park, wire a ceiling fixture, stop a running toilet, make pancakes from scratch, carve a turkey, and comfort a crying woman.  By the way, I like the way the instructions on that one begin: “Pull out a clean handkerchief, and move toward her as if you are advancing on a wounded animal that may still be able to bite.” 

I’m beginning a new series this Sunday called Relationships in the Real World.  As followers of Christ, we should live in a way that’s distinct from the rest of the world.  That includes the way we treat children and adults, people at work, people who don’t believe like we do, and people of other faiths.  And it should govern the way we treat the opposite sex, as well.  This Sunday, we’ll be talking about biblical manhood, specifically how Scripture says a man is to treat a woman.  This isn’t just young men or old men, it isn’t just married men.  It’s all men.  And if you’re a woman, I hope this message will be instructive for you, too.  Because one question we need to tackle right out of the box is “Does the Bible say men are superior to women?”  We’ll be looking at several Scriptures, and we’ll uncover three principles of biblical manhood.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

When the World Gets Real...

Recently, I heard something that absolutely astonished me.  I overheard a conversation between two girls in my church.  They were talking about prom, and one said, “If a guy is going to ask me to prom, I want him to do it in a creative way.”  I butted into their conversation and said, “You mean asking someone to prom should be like asking someone to marry you?”  They both looked at me as if I had been living under a rock, and informed me that this was indeed the expectation now.  It even has a name: Prom-posal.  One cannot simply call a girl up and ask her to the prom; one has to stand on a table in the middle of the school cafeteria and sing a song he himself wrote, or hire a skywriter, or some other elaborate gesture.  I am so glad I am not a teenaged boy!  I think back on my marriage proposal (my wife and I celebrate 23 years together this week).  The only things I got right that night are that I asked the right girl, and she said yes.  And that was marriage, not the prom!  An older man I knew used to say, “I’ve lived too long.”  I’m not ready to call myself old yet, but I feel that way sometimes.  Times are changing, and in many ways, not for the better. 

Times are changing in our spiritual landscape, too, and in many ways, not for the better.  The latest Pew Research survey on religion came out a few weeks ago, and once again, the irreligious are growing faster than any religious group. Evangelical Christianity is holding steady--1 out of 5 Americans is evangelical, and kids raised in churches like ours tend to keep the faith--but other forms of Christianity are declining markedly.  This June, the Supreme Court is expected to render a decision that strikes down all state bans on gay marriage.  Even if they don’t, which would be a shock, people across the political spectrum agree that it’s only a matter of time before same sex marriage is legal in all fifty states; that’s the overwhelming desire of the people.  Now you may ask, “What does that have to do with being a Christian in America?”  Well, nothing directly.  But think about what it means.  America was founded as a secular democracy; our founders made sure there was no state religion.  But Christianity has always held a place of high moral influence in the culture.  Not everyone was Christian, of course, but society at large tended to listen to the teachings of the Christian faith in determining what was right and wrong.  The Church was seen as a force for good, and therefore, was given respect.  In other words, we’ve had a home field advantage in this country since the very beginning. 

In 1996, around 25% of Americans thought people should have the right to marry someone of the same gender.  Now, less than 20 years later, that number is up to around 63%.  What does that mean?  Today, for the first time I know of, we see American culture saying, in effect, “It doesn’t really matter to us what the Bible teaches* on this issue.”  And not only do they not care, a significant portion are saying, “If you continue to believe what you believe on this issue, you’re not being faithful to your God, you’re being hateful and bigoted, and you need to be forced to change.”  This is a brand-new place for Christians in America; not only have we lost our home field advantage, in the eyes of many, we’re the bad guys.  That’s not just true of the so-called Christians who are hateful and judgmental (those people have always been seen as the bad guys in secular America, and in much of the Church) that’s now true of anyone who claims the Word of God as his or her authority in life. 
*(For the record, what does the Bible teach?  Unequivocally, it says that sex is meant for a man and woman within marriage, period.  Any other use of sex, whether it’s two teenagers sleeping together, or a married person having a fling, or homosexuality, may produce short-term pleasure, but it’s not what God designed us for. It will lead to long-term brokenness and alienation from God.  That doesn’t mean that people with homosexual orientation are cursed by God or hated.  I have several sinful tendencies that seem to have been in me since birth; but that doesn’t mean God hates me for it.  In fact, I believe some of the most courageous Christians I know are men and women who feel a homosexual orientation but, out of a desire to obey Christ, have chosen a celibate life.  They say, “I’m going to follow God’s plan for every part of my life, even though it’s hard, and believe that ultimately, that is where I will find joy.”  Scripture also doesn’t justify treating homosexual men and women with anything other than love.  Yet I know that many people today, if they heard me say those words, would say that I hate homosexual people.) 

In other words, being a Christian is going to be much tougher than it used to be. It’s tempting to respond to all of this with anger and/or fear, to either become militant against people who slander us and threaten our freedoms, or crawl into a little Christian ghetto, where we associate only with people who think as we do.  Those two responses have been par for the course for many Christians for decades now; frankly, I think those two responses are a large part of why we are where we are today.  So how should we live in the days ahead? This Sunday, I will show you what I believe is a true biblical response to times such as ours.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Head-to-Toe Alleluia

A Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot.  

--St. Augustine.

There once was a small town at the foot of a big mountain.  It was a beautiful little town, with a crystal clear stream running right through the heart of the city.  Kids swam in that stream, couples boated there, and people even drank from the waters, which were said to be tastier than anything bottled or piped in.  The source of the stream was a spring, high up in that mountain.  The town fathers paid a small salary to a hermit who lived near there; he kept the spring clean of any, silt, tree branches, and other pollution.  He was called the Keeper of the Spring.  One day, the city council was making big plans to build stadiums, concert halls, and other attractions they thought would turn that little town into a big city.  They voted to lay off the Keeper of the Spring in order to save money. After all, no one really saw him at work, and his position seemed irrelevant to a city on the move.  At first, nothing happened.  Then people began to notice that the stream looked dirty.  Soon, there was a noxious smell coming from the waters.  People who had swam and sipped from the stream all their lives began to get sick.  In spite of all the state-of-the-art upgrades, the little town shrank instead of growing, because the stream was polluted...and with the death of the stream, there was no life in the town.

In the parable, you are the town.  The stream is your soul.  The things it takes to maintain your soul are small and silent.  No one knows whether you do them or not.  But if you fail to do them, if you focus on flashier, more immediately rewarding pursuits, your soul will wither, and your life will suffer.  What are you doing to feed, cleanse and strengthen your soul?

All this Spring, I've been talking about the spiritual disciplines that help us encounter God in fresh ways, feeding our souls and transforming our lives.  This Sunday, I'll wrap up the series with some "next steps" that should benefit all of us.  We were meant to be people of joy and celebration, whose lives would be infectiously attractive to others and a blessing to the world.  Come this Sunday, and see how such a life is possible.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Getting Back on Track

Sometimes when I’m driving, if my wife catches me looking at something on the side of the road, she will clear her throat, poke me, or in some other way remind me to keep me eyes on the street.  Now that my kids are older, they do the same thing.  It’s annoying, to tell you the truth; after all, I manage to drive quite frequently by myself, and have yet to kill myself or anyone else on the road.  Yet at the same time, I know they are doing me a kindness (I hope none of them reads this...I want them to think I am still annoyed with them).  

God did me a similar kindness recently.  In a devotional book I was reading, the author quoted Colossians 1:28-29:

28 We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me.

That’s actually one of my favorite passages.  In fact, when I first came to WBC nearly 8 years ago, and I was asked for my favorite Scripture (to post in my bio on the website), that’s the one I named.  Yet seeing it again in that devotional book was like God clearing His throat at me, as if to say, “You’ve gotten a bit distracted.  Get your eyes back on the road.”  As a pastor, it’s far too easy to get caught up in running church programs, trying to add new members, and keep the present members happy, instead of doing what I am called to do: Make disciples.  Paul knew his job, and stayed focused on it at all times: To preach Jesus with the goal of making everyone mature (the Greek word means “complete”) in Him.  I realized to my shame that I rarely do anything anymore specifically for the purpose of helping individual Christians become the people they were created to be, complete in Jesus Christ.  When I saw that Scripture, I resolved to change.

What does that mean exactly?  I don’t know yet.  But here’s where I will start: I will pray every day for WBC members, using my handy church directory.  I will pray for your needs as best I know them (In a church this size, I certainly don’t know everything that you’re struggling with).  Here’s how you can help me: Call or write or email and tell me what you think God wants to do in your life.  Where do you most need to grow?  What virtues is He trying to add to your character?  What temptations, doubts, and questions do you struggle with the most?  If you want to send me an anonymous letter, that’s okay.  But help me, as pastor, know how best to help you take the next steps in your journey toward being complete.  This is just the beginning; I don’t know where God’s Spirit will take me after this.  But I’m glad to be back on track.

Jeff Berger
Westbury Baptist Church
10425 Hillcroft
Houston, TX 77096

The Heart of Worship

You may have seen this in the news:  A couple weeks ago, a professor at Texas A&M Galveston sent an email to all of the students in his management class, saying that he was cancelling the rest of the semester, and they all would receive a failing grade.  He explained to media later that the students, “couldn’t do some of the most simple and basic things they should have been able to do at this point.”  He also said they were rude, disrespectful, and even threatening toward him.  “Enough is enough,” he said.  Long ago, a perfect, righteous, loving God created a perfect world.  The crowning piece of His creation was humanity.  Yet we chose to rebel against Him, reject His love and His ways, and the world quickly spiraled downhill.  Not only were we incapable of living the way we should, we were hateful and disrespectful to Him.  He was well within His rights to say, “Enough is enough,” cancel the entire project, and fail us all.  Instead, Romans 5:8 says, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Basically, the professor took the final in our place.  Then He set about to make us into the kind of people who will ultimately be like Him.  All this Spring, we’ve been talking about the process God uses to change us.  We’ve looked at different spiritual disciplines that we can use to participate in that process and experience transformation.  Each week, I’ve given you a different challenge. I hope this has led to growth in your life as you experience God in new ways.  This week, we’ll talk about one of the most well-known of all the disciplines: Worship. 

Life can be rather ironic.  Sometimes, the solution to our problems is something we would never expect, something that doesn’t even seem related to what’s wrong.  For example, a middle-aged man visits his doctor and says, “I have no energy.  I’m tired all the time.”  The doctor does some tests, then tells him, “You need to start exercising every day.”  The man is angry and confused.  “But won’t exercise just make me more tired?  Couldn’t you just give me a pill that will give me more energy?”    
We often think we know just what we need: “I’m not very happy now, but if I could just get a better job…If I could just meet and marry that ‘right’ person…If I could just get over these health problems…If I could just straighten out my kids, then I would be happy.”  Meanwhile, God is saying, “What you really need is to worship me.”  That’s hard for us to believe, because we don’t understand worship. So this Sunday, we'll talk about what worship is and why it’s so important.  We'll even explore why God commands us to worship Him: Is that insecure of Him?  And of course, I'll have a challenge for you.  See you Sunday, Mother's Day.