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