Friday, December 31, 2010

Yet Will I Hope In Him

In almost twelve hours, 2010 will come to and end and we will usher in a new year.  As we prepare to leave this year, it would behoove us to reflect on the past year and the challenge for the year.  The challenge was "Yet will I hope in Him" taken from Job 13:15.  The challenge was for us to emulate Job when difficulties and struggles came our way during the year.  Rather than giving in to self-pity or frustration or anger or "fix it" mode, we were to put our hope in the Lord.  Not the kind of hope which says, "I hope it all works out", but the kind of hope that says, "God is still in control and I will trust Him even when circumstances turn upside down."

Look back on 2010.  Take a moment to mentally list those circumstances, struggles, issues, relationship, etc that caused you stress, anxiety and/or fear. 

Now that you have listed those, think through your response to each of them.  What was your first response?  That initial response usually is not the response we should have.  It may take a few seconds or a few months to realize our response has not been that of Job or a faithful Christ-follower.  What would need to change in your mindset for you to have Christ as your first response?  You see, our minds guide our emotions.  What we believe about a situation dictates how we will feel about a situation.  If we believe our line in the store should move just as fast as the other lines, when our line moves slower, we feel impatient and treated unfairly.  That is why being in God's Word every day is so important:  It prepares us to change our mindset and think God's thoughts (Which, I have found, always go opposite of what I think is fair and I deserve).

Now, think about how God has been gracious and generous to you in the past year.  He gave us so many unexpected joys and blessings which we didn't ask for and certainly didn't deserve.  He has been patient with us when we were impatient with Him and with others.  He has provided for us in so many unseen and unappreciated ways.  Now would you turn that list into prayers of thanksgiving?  Praise the God who watched over Job and was proud of Job's response even when Job's friends and wife told him to give it up.  That same loving God is watching over you and proud of the way you are trusting Him. 

May this Sip from the Well refresh you as you remember the goodness of God!

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Those of you who were in church on Sunday heard a letter written by one of our youth who has made some bad choices and and as a result of those choices is in juvenile hall.  I think his letter was very courageous and it deeply affected me.  We have all made bad choices and have done things we regret.  The focus should not be on the mistake we made, but on what we will LEARN from those mistakes.

I remember being at a similar crossroad when I was a youth.  I, too, made some bad choices and it got me arrested, put in jail and standing before a judge.  I was not tried as a juvenile, but as an adult.  I was only seventeen years old, but this crime was going to be on my record for the rest of my life.  I was broken by my sin, embarrassed by what I had done and ashamed that my parent's name was involved.  It was a very dark period for me as I found myself quite alone and friendless.  I missed out on the events my classmates and friends were experiencing because of my crime.

Every criminal is given the opportunity to make restitution by the courts.  That restitution may involve serving time in prison, a fine or community service.  Restitution does not mean that we make the crime go away.  It means that we do our best to make up for the wrongs we have done.  We face up to our responsibility and pay society back.  My restitution involved a financial obligation, curfew, driving restrictions, jail and other responsibilities.  It was the turning point in my life.  Up until then, I had been playing the church game:  Act like a Christian at church and live like everyone else the rest of the time.  I knew I was a hypocrite and embarrassing Christ, but I was too foolish to change.  So Jesus gave me the opportunity to change.  He confronted me with my foolishness and left me with two choices:  Continue the way I had been and waste my life or allow Jesus to be Lord of my life and have meaning and purpose.  Fortunately, I chose the latter of those two options and my life has never been the same.  Please know that the restitution was painful, embarrassing and very beneficial.  At the end of my six months of restitution, my record was expunged (Which means I don't have a criminal record).  I also learned to value and treasure my family more than I had ever done in my life.  Most of all, I learned that my problem was not with the law, but with God.  I drew closer to Him than I ever had in my life and began to personalize my faith.  There were many nights when Jesus was my only friend and that friendship has lasted my entire life and grown stronger.

We need to pray for this youth in our church family.  If you would like to write this youth, send me an e-mail and I will send you his address.  We need to encourage our youth to live for Jesus and not play the game.  We need to set an example for our youth and live for Jesus, not playing games. We don't need to be perfect, we just need to be real and a reasonable fascimile of Jesus.

In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus tells us we have two choices.  One is easy to find and most people we know are on it.  The only drawback, this choice leads to death.  The second choice is harder to find and only a few are on the path.  The benefit of this choice is that it leads to life.  The best choice is the narrow way, which means following Jesus without reservation.  The worst choice is the broad way, which means continuing in our present direction.

Which road will you take today?

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Inside of a Cookie

Teaching 5th & 6th Grade Sunday School allows me to learn new and exciting things in my life.  Take this past Sunday for instance.  My class was making cookies for the rest of the Sunday School as a project to encourage people to support our International Missions offering.  When I think it is time for the cookies to be done, I take a pan out of the oven and use a spatula to test if it "looks" done.  Not very scientific, but you go with what works for you.  Two of my students, Kailah and Margarita asked me what I was doing, so I told them I was checking to see if the cookies were ready.  They lovingly informed me that the way I was doing it was incorrect.  The way to check whether cookies were baked, they assured me, was to take a toothpick and stick it into the middle of the cookie.  If the toothpick came out clean and dry, the cookies were ready.  So we found some toothpicks and ran their test.  Sure enough, the cookies were ready and quite delicious!  We passed the cookies out to the Sunday School classes, but the thought of how we check the inside of the cookie would not leave me.

I began to realize that this is a wonderful parable for our life in Christ.  So often, we try to look like we have it all under control and we are strong in our faith.  We say the right words and always have a smile on our face at church.  We try to fool people by putting on a good front.  But inside, we have anxiety, stress, sin, loneliness and a host of other issues.  We keep that part closed off from everyone, sometime even from God.

But the Bible will go straight to the inside of our lives.  It's like a toothpick in the middle of a baking cookie:  The Bible reveals whether we are "done" or not.  Jesus knew that mankind is prone to put on a happy face when the inside really needs a little more cooking by God.  In the sermon on the mount, he makes us go beyond our actions and look to our attitudes.  Just because we have never committed adultery doesn't mean we aren't having trouble withe the heart.  So Jesus reminds us that if we look on someone in lust, we have sin equal to adultery. Ouch!  We look around us and take solace in the fact that we can't be as messed up as so many others because we have never murdered anyone.  So Jesus reminds us that if we have been angry at anyone (Even if that anger, in our eyes, is "justified"), we have sin equal to murder.  In the 5th and 6th chapter of Matthew, Jesus just slowly and methodically breaks down our self-righteousness as we hide the evil in our hearts by trying to act good. 

It boils down to this:  God cares more for the inside of the cookie than the outside.  He wants to make sure we are being transformed daily.  He doesn't just want us to be people who mindlessly do and say the right things while having an attitude of anger, resentment or lust.  He wants to transform the heart.  That is why being in the Bible each day is imperative for us.  The Bible is like that two-edged sword:  It cuts deep, but it also brings healing.

So did you spend time in the Word today?  Did you carve out time at the beginning of the day to be still and listen to God?  What transformation is God bringing about in your life today?  Open up the inside of your cookie to the toothpick of God which will transform your life.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Strength to Turn Away

This morning I had a strange thought at the gym after I finished working out.  I had spent about an hour working up a sweat and trying to get my body in better shape.  Afterward, I always take a shower, change clothes and then head to work.  Here's my strange thought:  What if, after taking a shower, I put back on the clothes I had worn during my workout.  That would be nasty and the clean would not last.  Those sweaty clothes would put the perspiration I had just showered off back on my body again.  So I wasted a shower.

This notion then melded with my quiet time from this morning.  Before I went to the gym, I spent time alone with the Lord praying and in His Word.  I am slowly working my way through the Gospel of Mark and today I focused on Mark 5:16-20.  This is the demon possessed man who was healed by Jesus.  He came to his right mind and then two things happened:  (1) He wanted to go with Jesus and follow Him.  He had no reason to stay.  He wanted to be with the one who had healed him.  (2)  When Jesus told him to go tell others, he went back to town.  I noticed that he didn't go back to the graveyard where he had lived while demon possessed.  He had to turn his back on that graveyard.  He was even willing to turn his back on his family to follow Jesus.

Here is the question for this Sip:  am I willing to turn my back on that sin, unhealthy lifestyle, addiction, etc and follow Jesus?  If not, we are just like the guy at the gym who showers and then puts back on his nasty clothes.  Going back to the same sin puts us in an even darker place than we were before the first sin.  But leaving that lifestyle can be challenging, painful and fearful.  Yet what awaits us is so much better.  What are you unwilling to walk away from:  Approval of friends?  Cigarettes?  Cussing?  Living with your boyfriend/girlfriend?  Bad temper?  Disappointment?  Let the Holy Spirit give you the strength to walk away from the sin and embrace Jesus.  What He has in store is so much better for you?  Take that step today!

Monday, November 22, 2010

We're Number Six

The most recent study of violent cities in America was released yesterday and Richmond was listed as the sixth most dangerous city in America.  There was another study which listed Richmond as the most dangerous city of its size in America.  We usually get excited when our teams are ranked high or out city is ranked high in different polls.  However, this is not a ranking that anyone wants, especially those of us who live or work in Richmond.  It is a sad commentary on the hopelessness and bitterness that permeates our city.

I'm sure our city leaders will come after this will multiple explanations of why Richmond ranks so high.  They will probably say the study focuses on certain factors but doesn't take into account other factors which would lower Richmond's ranking.  They may blame the lack of employment opportunities or lament that we don't spend more money on education.  They may even get radical and state that the large amount of fatherless homes has given rise to a culture of violence and anger in our young men.  I'm sure the paper will be filled with elected official seeking to spin this news in a way that benefits them.

However, my take is a little bit different.  I believe the violence is simply an expression of the spiritual darkness which our city leaders have fostered for decades.  When Hillcrest was founded, we were located in downtown Richmond.  But in the 60's we were "redeveloped" out of downtown Richmond.  There have been about three waves of redevelopment in the city.  Each of these redevelopments have seen the city take property of the churches and sell those properties to companies or developers.  Through this process, the light of Christ has been diminished more and more over the decades until we have the current situation.  So ultimately, our city leaders have moved the church out of the city, giving residents few choices and opportunities to experience the transformation of Christ. 

Please know that this is not a political sip - Politicians will always do what is politically expedient for them in the short term.  This Sip is a reminder that we are in a spiritual battle.  When we remove prayer, God's Word, Godly counsel, fasting, mediation and accountability from our lives, we get what we see personified in Richmond.  Each one of us have spiritual battles going on in our lives.  But do we respond with the spiritual weapons at our disposal or do we try to fix the problem with our own solution?  What is the first step we take when we face obstacles?  Do we pray?  Do we get discouraged?  That rebellious child first needs prayer before we discipline.  That financial hardship should put us on our knees, not whipping out the credit card again.  The solutions are not nearly as important as the faith we grow during the process.  But most of us want microwave faith with split second solutions.  Sorry, but it just doesn't work that way.

Take a moment to read Ephesians 6:10-18 and meditate on the impact of this passage in regards to the spiritual battles you are facing.  Then after reading and meditating on this passage, will you face your struggle in a way that is in keeping with this passage?  Let's let this study of Richmond be a reminder that our greatest weapon in life is being humble on our knees in prayer before the majestic and sovereign God!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Don't let the unknown stop you

This past Saturday, my 5th and 6th Grade Sunday School class took an outing to the Oakland Ice Center to enjoy the sport of ice skating.  If I recall correctly, none of the kids had ever been ice skating before, so they  were a little anxious and nervous about this new experience.  Being on ice skates on the actual ice is a very uncomfortable experience because you have almost no control.  It reminds we of being an adolescent male when the body grows faster than the muscles can handle.  You fall for no reason and feel like the scarecrow on the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy takes him off his post.  I am not adept at ice skating, but I can skate without falling but a few times.  So it appeared I was the best skater in the group, which isn't a strong endorsement of our skills.  I was trying to help each of the kids feel more comfortable in skating so they could release themselves from hanging onto the boards and actually get out on the ice.

Enter the sister of one of my students, who is only in the first grade.  Mariana was scared at first and didn't want to go without her sister.  When I tried to help, she was receptive and seemed to catch on.  We skated for two hours and she stayed on the ice for almost the entire time.  About an hour into, I checked on all the kids to see how they were doing.  I was especially concerned with Mariana because she was the youngest and seemed very unsure at first.  I skated over to her and asked if I could help and she said, "No, I've got it".  Her head was down and she was skating with these small little strides.  But she kept skating.  She was motoring around the rink, even though she stayed close to the boards.  Anytime I volunteered to help, she said, "No, Ive got it".  She went from being afraid of the unknown to gaining more and more confidence in an uncomfortable situation.

I thought about how often I get sidetracked by circumstances in which the outcome or the situation is unknown.  I rarely ask for help and often give in to fear.  Rather than just getting on the ice and trusting God, I only look at what I can accomplish and get overwhelmed.  There's a lot to be said for "No, I've got it".  By that, I don't mean we should have no support or accountability because that isn't Biblical.  What I mean is that we should continue to push on, even when the situation is bigger than our resources.  We should not be intimidated by the situation or by the opposition because our God will see us through it.

Paul put it this way in Philippians 4:13, "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it, but one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on to win the goal for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."  Those are some solid words for us to live by.  We haven't arrived yet, but we aren't stopping on this journey.
Maybe you have faced some obstacles in your faith.  Maybe you are struggling with financial challenges.  Maybe you have a relationship in which you just want to give up and walk away.  Maybe you have a class that seems beyond your comprehension.  You know the situation you are facing.  Rather than let the unknown stop or overwhelm you, press on with God's grace and power.  It's amazing how far we can go in such a little time if we just keep moving forward.  "No thanks, I've got it"!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hope in a basket

There is also a second benefit to an early Thanksgiving meal with our church family:  We can collect food to assist those in our community who are in need.  Each year, we partner with the Telegraph Center in Oakland to minister to the hungry in our community.  For the past few years, several of our members go to the Center the day before Thanksgiving to pass out food baskets.  We also are the only church who donates boxes of pie crusts to those baskets.  We can look at that and think, "It's only pie crust.  That really isn't a big deal."  So it would be easy to overlook making this type of donation.  But if you were the family receiving that basket, your view might be a little different.  Not only will you have the basics for a Thanksgiving meal, but will be able to have dessert.  Maybe you are not a dessert person, but that is my favorite food group.  I like to eat the food I am supposed to eat so I can indulge in a little dessert.  Dessert means we have more than enough to get by.  It brings a smile to make face and make my taste buds tingle.  For a struggling family, dessert can mean hope.

The Bible tells us in Romans 5 that we have hope because of Jesus.  He really is the only hope we have.  Romans 5:5 tells us that, "...hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us".  God sends hope to every one of His followers, sometimes in big ways and at other times in much smaller ways.  A kind word from a stranger, an unexpected check, a hug when we are crying on the inside are all ways God gives us hope.  So hope does come in a basket to one family.  How has God given you hope?  Would you take a moment to thank Him for the hope He has put into your life.  If you are needing a little hope, how about calling another member of the "family" and asking them to pray for you.  That may be your little basket of hope today.  Or maybe you should call someone and pray for them, giving them some hope.  Hope that comes from God does not disappoint!

For more information about the Telegraph Center, contact the East Bay Baptist Association

Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Saints Day

Back in the 600's, the Church began to remember and celebrate the lives of Christian martyrs from the first 300 years of the Church.  Reading Foxe's book of Martyrs is a vivid reminder of the price that was paid for us to hear the Gospel.  The blood of these men and women have been the ink on which the story of the Gospel has been written. 

November 1st has been set aside by the Church as a day to recall the price which has been paid for us to hear the Gospel.  We should reflect on the sacrifices that have been made over the years.  Dedicated Christians like Cyril, bishop of Gortyna(On the island of Crete) give testimony to us.  In the late 200's, Cyril was seized by the order of Lucius, the governor.  He as advised to perform sacrifices to other gods to save his life.  He could not agree to any such requirement, especially since he had long taught others to save their souls and not throw away their own salvation.  He was sentenced to be burned alive since he would not offer sacrifices to the gods.  He heard his sentence without fear, walked to his place of execution and bore his sufferings with great courage.

Today, Christians in other lands face a death sentence because of their faith.  The Baptist Press released a story on Friday on Youcel Nadakhani, a pastor in Northern Iran, who is facing the death penalty for speaking out about his faith.  He questioned whether his children should be forced to be taught Islamic doctrines at school since he is a Christian.  He was arrested in October of 2009 and once his charges are written in a statement, he will have only a few months to recant of be killed.

I have only known one man who was an outlaw because of his faith.  I met him in 1987 when I was playing basketball with Athletes In Action in the Philippines.  His name was "Art" and he was barely twenty-one years old.  We met him in Manila where he was now living.  He had lived in one of the provinces, but it had become unsafe for him.  The communists in that area had threatened him with death because many of their number were turning to the Christian faith.  If he dared show himself in that province, he would be assassinated. 

It is not over 20 years later and I often wonder what happened to Art.  My most vivid reminder of Art is a conversation that we had late one night when everyone else had gone to sleep.  He had such peace about his situation and passion for Jesus.  I asked him if he were afraid to die and he told me, "Ted, I already died on the day I gave my life to Jesus.  I trust Him for my protection.  If my death will win others to Christ, I am ready to die."  It reminded me of the Apostles in Acts 5:41.  After they had been flogged, the Bible says, "The apostles left the San Hedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name." 

I wonder how I will handle such persecution.  How about you?

Would you take this day to research on-line, read and reflect on the martyrs of the Christian faith?  Would you thank God for their faithfulness, dedication and testimony?  Would you ask God to encourage you so that you could face such persecution.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Running the steps

This morning after I had been in the office a little while, I went upstairs to the sanctuary.  I always enjoy spending time in the sanctuary praying, which is my usual routine for a Monday morning.  When I went out the back doors, I saw a middle-aged woman jogging the stairs which lead down to the street.  We were both a little surprised to see each other but I smiled and asked if she were running the steps.  Through her panting, she said she was and I wished her good luck in her exercise.  It was a brief exchange, but one which set the tone for my day.

Those of you who come to Hillcrest know how steep the front steps are.  Running up and down those steps a couple of times would definitely tire the average person out.  Yet this woman was committed to her exercise.  She was sweating and huffing and puffing, but kept going up and down the stairs.  She ran the stairs for at least ten minutes because I could hear her from my office.  What makes a person put themselves through such physical stress?  Is she wanting to lose weight?  Is she trying to get in shape for a race?  Is she training to play the female version of "Rocky"?  Is she just a glutton for punishment?  Whatever the case may be, she was dedicated to getting up and down those stairs.

As I pondered the pounding of the steps, I began to think about how often I get sidetracked in the things God has put before me.  I always enjoy the beginning of that work, but when it isn't as enjoyable or no one encourages me, it becomes easy to quit.  I think about Paul's words to the church at Philippi when he said, "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."  So even Paul was tempted to give up or quick when life got a little too difficult.  Yet he continued to strain and go forward, not spending his time on the past.

So my desire today is to run the fix my eyes on the prize ahead of me.  Let me encourage you to keep moving forward.  Oh, you may barely be moving forward not able to sprint, but keep moving forward.  Remain faithful to God's calling in your life.  You will eventually get to the top of the stairs and see the fruit of your diligence.  By the way, running is easier when you have a partner.  How about calling a brother or sister today and praying with them about your race!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


This morning, I was meditating on Psalm 14.  It is a powerful Psalm that speaks of the evidence for God.  Let me encourage you to read the entire Psalm (It is only 7 verses long, so it will be a quick read).
The verse that grabbed my attention was verse 2 which states, "The Lord looks down from Heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God."  As I pondered that powerful verse, I realized how little I really understand God.  He is so much bigger than my thoughts and when I try to condense Him into small snippets of truth, I miss His majesty.  God is so vast and He constantly astounds me and surprises me.  However, the passage seemed to be a call from God for us to, not so much figure Him out as simply to trust Him in all things.  We need to understand that any situation is not out of His control and grasp.  To trust His heart when we cannot see His hand.

The other aspect of this passage which struck me was the fact that God is looking to see who will seek Him.  He doesn't put any qualifier on this.  He is pleased by those who will seek Him.  He doesn't ask us to have perfect Faith, He asks us to look for Him.  If you lost your paycheck in your house this week, what would you do?  We would tear up the house trying to find the paycheck because our rent/mortgage, groceries and life are connected to it.  God wants us to have that same enthusiasm for seeking Him.  He wants us to wake up excited about another morning we can spend in His Word and in prayer with Him before starting our day.  He wants us to look for His touch throughout the day, no matter how hectic or mundane.  I know I don't do this very well on most days.  I get caught up in my own stuff.  So today, I have made a commitment to try and see God at work in every situation which I encounter today:  Whether at the store, at work, playing hoops or standing in line.  I want to try to let God know that I value Him so much that I am looking for Him in every aspect of my life.  Not a bad way to spend a day!

Monday, September 20, 2010


As I told you on Sunday, I went to watch Wake Forest play Stanford in football on Saturday evening.  Now, I have been a devotee of Wake Forest athletics since I can remember.  My Dad is an alumni of this outstanding university, so we had no choice but to cheer for them.  We grew up going to basketball and football games wearing our gold and black and cheering for Wake Forest.  I can sing the entire fight song, even though I never attended the University.  Of course, being a Wake Forest fan teaches one how to deal with suffering because Wake Forest has lost more football games than any other division I NCAA football team.  The last bright spot was in 2006 when Wake Forest won the ACC title and then lost in the Orange Bowl.  So I am used to being on the losing end of the scoreboard.  As Mitch and I were going to the game, I was trying to prepare Mitch for the inevitable:  Wake Forest would be beaten soundly by Stanford.  I knew it before I left to go the game.  So when Wake tied the score at 7, I celebrated because I knew it wouldn't last.  Sure enough, Stanford starting scoring and scoring and scoring.  Wake couldn't stop Stanford and it turned into a rout.  We left early in the third quarter because there was no need to stay.

This morning, as I was praying for each of you, this game came to mind.  I wondered how many of us at Hillcrest have felt like that Wake Forest team?  The struggles keep mounting and coming.  They seem overwhelming because each time we turn around something else goes wrong.  The bills keep climbing, the tests keep coming, the kids keep stressing us and the list goes on.  It seems like we will be overwhelmed by all of these struggles.  Does that sound like a place where you might be today?  If so, take a moment to read Matthew 14:27.

Did you read Jesus' words?  In the middle of a violent storm when the disciples are freaking Jesus appears and tells them to not be afraid.  He doesn't promise the storm will go away, He promises to be with them in the storm.  What a beautiful reminder.  In whatever storm we may find ourselves, Jesus is there in the midst of it with us.  He may not make the storm go away, but He will give us comfort, peace and assurance as we face these storms.

So today, as you journey through life, may this sip of the well bring you the strength you need for the task at hand!