Thursday, March 3, 2016

Thank you, Westbury

              For eight and a half years, I have had the privilege of serving as Senior Pastor of Westbury Baptist Church. That joy comes to an end on March 13, when I preach my last sermon here and begin my new assignment at First Baptist, Conroe.  Westbury is a wonderful church with an incredible history and a spectacular future.  In 53 years, there have only been four other men who’ve had the honor I have had; that’s how healthy this church is.  In my time here, we have experienced celebration and mourning, made some bold changes, and seen many wonderful new members join.  You’ve supported me, worked alongside me, watched my kids grow up, and treated me better than any pastor deserves.  I am excited for what God has next for me, but I will never forget you.  In fact, I wish I could bring you with me. 
               So what happens next?  The ministry staff will make sure there are good preachers in the pulpit every Sunday.  This staff has been serving together for almost eight years--and most have been here for decades.  The deacon body will lead the Wednesday night prayer meeting.  The church is in great hands, leadership-wise.  The regular programs of the church will continue to be excellent.  Events like Vacation Bible School, the summer mission trip to Donna, youth and children’s camps will all still happen.  Meanwhile, the church will select a Pastor Search Committee from among the members of the congregation.  Be thinking of men and women of different ages who would do a good job of selecting the church’s next Senior Pastor.  Once that group is formed, they will begin to do research, and will probably form a profile of the sort of person the church needs.  They will solicit resumes of potential pastors.  Through a process of prayer, interviews, and much discussion, they will arrive at a candidate to present to you.  On a particular weekend, you’ll meet this candidate, hear him preach, and have the opportunity to elect him as the new Senior Pastor.  No doubt, he’ll be different in many ways from me.  Let him be himself; He is God’s man for this church.  You allowed me to be myself and didn’t compare me to Bob or Milton; please do him the same favor.  Love his family. Pray for them daily.  Work alongside him, as you did me. This is the Lord’s church; serve Him gladly.
               There is never a good time to leave a great church like Westbury.  But I am thankful to God that I am leaving at a point of tremendous health, which makes me confident about WBC’s future.  The church is financially strong and debt-free.  The ministry staff, deacons, committees, and Bible Study leaders are vibrant, committed men and women ready to do what is needed.  Both of our worship services are strong and growing.  Here’s what I need for you to understand: Now is the time for you to commit yourself with greater diligence to God’s work here at WBC.  Sometimes during a pastoral transition, church members will “check out” for a while, thinking, “I’ll come back when there’s a new pastor.”  But now is when the church needs you most.  Keep attending worship.  Keep giving financially.  Join a Bible study group if you’re not currently part of one; if you are, be faithful to it.  Volunteer for ministries if you don’t already; if you do, serve with even greater devotion.  Westbury is a great church and an important one; this part of our city needs healthy, multi-ethnic, Bible-teaching, Christ-exalting local churches.  Westbury Baptist is that kind of church, and I believe her best days are yet to come!

               Finally, thank you so much for allowing me to be your pastor, your confidant, your co-laborer and your friend for these past eight and a half years.  I cannot express adequately how loved you have made me feel, or how much I admire you individually, and have enjoyed serving you corporately.  I am glad I will only be an hour up the road; I hope that means we’ll see each other occasionally.  And I will enjoy watching from a distance as Westbury continues to change lives for good and glorify God here in Southwest Houston, and wherever His Spirit leads.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Why I'm glad Spotlight won best picture

This year, my daughter Kayleigh wanted to see all the movies nominated for Best Picture in the Academy Awards.  I like good movies, so I decided we’d try to get this done.  It was a bit expensive, but  thanks to a dollar movie near our house, along with Redbox, I knew we had a shot.  Besides, she’s leaving home soon, so it gave me a great chance to spend time with her while I still can.  We were able to finish our goal with a day to spare.  Special thanks to my wife Carrie for allowing me eight dates with another woman!

Here's what I can tell you: All eight were exceptionally well-done.  I found The Martian to be the most entertaining of the movies.  I wish I could have seen this movie when, as a kid, I wondered why I needed to study science and math.  Bridge of Spies was powerful; Critics scoff at Spielberg because his movies are about ordinary people who become heroic  and find hope in trying times.  But this movie reminded me how fortunate we are to live in a representative democracy instead of a totalitarian state (let's hope we remember that).  The Revenant had so many moments that will stick with me--An ambush scene early in the movie (one of the best battle scenes I've ever witnessed), a bear attack, a man cauterizing his throat wound with gunpowder.   But it's so grim, it's almost unwatchable. And it bothers me that a true story about a man who forgave those who had left him for dead has been transformed into a tale of revenge; is vengeance really more interesting than forgiveness?  Room is also tough to watch, but far more hopeful.  Brooklyn is the most old-fashioned movie I've seen in years...and I mean that as a compliment.  The Big Short helped me understand what really caused the Great Recession of 2007-8.  It has several funny moments, but I can't remember another time that a movie made me laugh and left me feeling righteously indignant at the same time.  Mad Max Fury Road is essentially a chase scene that lasts an hour and a half, but it's better than that sentence makes it sound.  

And then there's Spotlight.  I went into this one reluctantly.  I wish such a film didn't have to be made, that this story had never occurred.  I expected a long lecture on the evils of organized religion.  But when it was over, Kayleigh and I both agreed it should win Best Picture.  It's impressive stuff; the acting is fantastic, and the script takes a profound tragedy and tells it as a detective story, as a team of reporters doggedly seeks the truth, finding along the way that the scope of the horror is far worse than they imagined.  But the real reason I am glad the movie won is that I found Spotlight--against all my expectations--morally inspiring.  The reporters in the movie were all raised Catholic.  This is a personal story for each of them.  One worries about  what this will do to her devout grandmother.  Another (in a scene I found especially powerful), talks about how he grew up enjoying church, and always assumed he would someday come back, until now.  At one point, one reporter realizes he bears responsibility for this tragedy as well; the signs were there, but no one spoke up.  That, to me, is the real message of the movie: Evil exists, even in organized religion (after all, churches are made up of sinners who have only just begun to be redeemed), and we must be courageous enough to oppose it, to protect the weak...even if we're the lone voice that does so.  

This is a particularly sore spot for me.  I was raised to be polite; I like to get along with people.  Yet when I read the Gospels, I remember that Jesus wasn't always...well, nice.  He said harsh things to people, both to His enemies and His friends (remember the time He called Peter "Satan?").  He was prophetic; not just in terms of foretelling the future, but in the way that word is more often used: In declaring the truth no one wanted to hear.  His words were often comforting ("Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest"), but almost as often, they were terrifying ("Whoever wants to save His life will lose it").  We have to have the courage to be prophetic too.  In saying that, I don't mean pointing out the evils of society; we're already too well-known for that.  I mean admitting and addressing the ways we disgrace the name of Christ and drive people away from Him.  Where are my blind spots?  What inconsistencies and hypocrisies exist in me and in my church that have to be confronted?  Lord, give us the wisdom and courage to confront them...for your sake.