Sunday, July 31, 2011

An example for us to follow

This past week, we had a wonderful Vacation Bible School.  Our highest attendance of children was 37 and those kids learned how to put their faith into action.  Of the kids in grades 3-6, all but two of them had made commitments to Christ in their lives and those two have heard the Gospel numerous times at Hillcrest.  We had around 35 workers every single night serving, teaching, assisting, loving and being involved in the lives of the children.  Our summer missionaries were surprised to see how many adults were involved in our VBS because most churches struggle to have enough workers.

Without trying to offend anyone, I would like to make mention of one worker who is one of the many examples of service at our VBS.  The Hurst's daughter, Cindy, is visiting from Texas.  She is here to see her parents and went up to visit her grandmother in Oregon.  However, each night she was in town, she worked at the registration table.  She spent the evening at VBS serving wherever she was needed.  Cindy grew up in Hillcrest, gave her life to Christ and was baptized here, so it's not like she is a stranger.  However, she was here on vacation.  If I were on vacation and my home church was having VBS while I was there, I doubt I would go an help.  I would be too busy with others things to help.  Yet, here was Cindy setting an example for me.  She could have done a multitude of things while in the Bay Area, but she chose to minister to children and adults.  Of course, we could say the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree because Ken & Doris are such incredible servants.  Do you remember Sunday morning how many people raised their hands when I asked if they, their children or grandchildren had received a note from Doris Hurst?  It seemed like everyone who has every been to Hillcrest more than once has received a letter or card from her.  She even sends the most wonderful and affirming notes to my Mom who lives in North Carolina.  Yet, Cindy didn't have to come to church and help out at VBS.  She didn't do it because of her parents' reputation.  She did it because she loves Jesus.  

A lot of wonderful things happened at our VBS.  But I wanted to stop and focus on this wonderful example.  Cindy has encouraged me in such a deep way because of the passionate love she has for our Savior and our church.  With examples like that, how can I shortchange Jesus or Hillcrest?  Aren't you glad God has given us such wonderful examples?  I also want to thank you for being an example and encouragement to me.  As we look towards the Fall and opportunities to minister, let's continue to reach out and touch our community with Jesus' love!  My this Sip refresh you so that you might refresh others.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Can we let it die?

This week, July 25-29, Hillcrest will be having our Vacation Bible School.  VBS is one of the major outreaches of most churches towards trying to reach children and their families.  Most churches at some point in the Summer will have VBS, even though it may not be reaching anyone or even effective.  When I first came to Hillcrest, we had VBS.  I watched the first Summer and saw a lot of energy, time and money spent on an outreach that wasn't much of an outreach.  I'm not trying to find fault, but we were doing VBS because we always did VBS.  Not a great reason to have VBS, but it was our motivating factor.  We did one more year of VBS before our Ministry Council decided to put an end to the ministry.  We asked the question, "Why are we having VBS?".  We all agreed we were doing it because we always did it.  However, we were spending all of this energy and only have 10-15 children attend - Not of whom were actual prospects for our church.  It was a bold move because most churches are never able to let a ministry die.  We start something and think we now must always do it.  If we don't do that particular ministry, then we just aren't being faithful to God.  We did get some criticism for that decision, but most of the VBS workers were relieved because of the stress it would cause.

In Acts 16:6-8, we see a precedence for this allowing a ministry to end.  Paul and his companions are wanting to go to Bithynia to share the Gospel.  Great idea because these folks had never heard the Gospel.  It was logical and was simply a continuation of what they had already been doing.  However, Paul and his companions were kept from going, but rather than getting frustrated they followed the Spirit to something new.  I wonder how many ministries in the church are Spirit-led and how many are human-led.  I wonder how many churches are having a VBS this Summer just because they have been having VBS for the past 10, 20, 50 years.  I wonder how many leaders go to conferences, hear about a ministry and then think this would be perfect for their church.  So they go back, pumped up and get their folks involved in this ministry.  Are they being led of the Spirit or led by their own decisions and what worked in the 1960's or worked in another church.  I wonder how many churches would have the courage to let a human-driven ministry die, taking heat because they weren't like the church down the street.  It always takes courage to follow the Spirit.  I wonder how many churches stay busy doing things they think they should do rather than joining God in the work He is already doing.  I wonder how often this happens at Hillcrest.

Since you already know Hillcrest is having VBS, I should explain what happened.  Four year ago after we had gone without VBS for four years, several leaders asked if we could have VBS.  We shared the ineffectiveness of VBS and the reasons we decided to end it.  We took the next month to pray and seek God's direction.  From this time of prayer and sharing, God led us to make a few changes:  (1)  We started to have an outreach event BEFORE VBS to reach out and draw people in to the church.  This has turned into the Hillcrest Community Fair, an outreach event that usually adds 2 to 4 families each year.  (2)  We changed the time to later in the Summer, moving from June to July.  We needed more time to prepare rather than having it in June when we were rushed an unable to adequately prepare.  (3)  We changed the time to the evening so we could have enough workers and children.  Most of the kids and adults are busy during the day.  

The results have been tangible.  We now average over 50 students at VBS and around 40 workers.  It becomes a tremendous follow-up to the Fair and a transition to our Sunday evening TeamKid ministry.  VBS had also become a great time to disciple our own students and get them sharing their testimonies.  The adults also get to know each other much better since there are so many workers.  We get to see them serving and utilizing their gifts to work in the Kingdom.  All of this is possible because we were willing to let something die.  

Is there something you are doing "for the Lord" that really is your own effort and now a Spirit-led endeavor?  Do you have the courage to let it die and not allow Satan to send you on a guilt-trip?  Maybe if we simplified our lives and waited on the Spirit to lead we would be more effective.  May this Sip from the Well refresh you and allow you freedom to serve Jesus with joy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Silent Servant

I always enjoy reading the beginning and the end of Paul's epistles to the different churches.  I always glean so much insight from those names which are listed in the opening and closing statements.  Rarely do we hear more than a sentence or two about any of them.  Some are praised and commended for their service, while others are chastised for their carnal ways.  I read those passages and try to imagine what would be written about me, then adjust my life so that the author would be able to say things about me which would encourage others to follow my example of faithfulness.  What would Paul write about your life and your faith?

One of my favorites is Tychicus because of the comments made about him and because I enjoy saying his name.  But today, I want to share with you about another:  Onesiphorus.  You can read about him in 2 Timothy 1:16-18, which you should do now.  Paul says that Onesiphorus sought Paul out while Paul was in prison.  He brought encouragement and strength to Paul when Paul needed it the most.  Yet, there are very few verses about the life on Onesiphorus.  He is what I call the "Silent Servant" - A servant of the Lord and the church who gets no pay and very little praise.  He doesn't do something we would consider "great" or would get him invited to speak at a church conference.  He would be the one cleaning up after that conference or praying for that conference or driving the "famous" speakers around or greeting people as they entered the conference.  He would need to wear a name badge because his face and name would almost be anonymous.  Yet, no event would be successful and make an impact without the myriad of Onesiphoruses doing the Silent Servant work.

This past Friday, our church attempted a huge outreach event for us called the Hillcrest Community Fair.  It is an event in which we offer a meal, treats, games, prizes, activities, crafts, live music and much more to the community all free of charge.  It is a fun, safe and free evening where families can relax and play together.  We had over 170 guests come to Hillcrest who enjoyed the barbecued chicken dinner and the variety of activities available.  There were lots of smiling faces and full stomachs.  All of this made possible by the many Silent Servants at Hillcrest.  Those who served at the Fair were stuck in their one place of ministry for the entire evening.  They didn't get to see everything else going on at the Fair.  They didn't even get to eat the chicken dinner and had to eat before they came.  They greeted people with a smile and spent time getting to know the visitors.  

I would not even begin to try to name the Silent Servants and the work they did because I would miss a lot of them.  I would miss them because so many of them served in ways I did not see nor even hear about.  They did what needed to be done.  They had a heart for Jesus and the community, then put action to their hearts.  I always look at an event our church hosts and asks myself this question:  "If I came to this event, what would I honestly think?"  So many times, we are afraid to be honest about how the community probably views an event.  I don't know if I would have been overly impressed by the activities, even though there were quite a few.  There weren't many activities that I could not experience in other places.  But what would affect me would the two things:  (1) The cost - It was all free with no hidden hook.  That would really cause me to wonder what was happening at this church.  (2) The smile on the workers' faces - It seemed like the workers were having as much fun and the participants.  Those two things would make me want to come back.  Those two things are the result of Silent Servants doing their thing.

Rarely are we ever involved in ministries where we don't run into some servants who only want to serve in a particular place or fashion.  You know, the ones who will help but only if they can help in their particular way.  They certainly won't stick around to clean up or come during the week to sweep the parking lot or stuff envelopes or bring lunch to a group that is working.  We all know of the servants who only want to serve if they are in front of the crowd and in the spotlight.  These kind of servants give servants a bad name and there are too many of them in the church.  I praise God that such servants were not a part of the Fair.  The Silent Servants were out in force and made an impact on our community.

The next time your church is planning a ministry, ask the leaders how you can serve in ways that no one else wants to serve.  What can you do to make their job smoother that is the dirty job?  Examine your life today and determine to be a Silent Servant, doing what needs to be done to impact the world with the love of Jesus through your Church.  If you do this, you will take a Sip from God's Well of peace and satisfaction, which is eternal!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Having better vision

I have had to wear corrective lens since I was sixteen years old.  Maybe I should have eaten more carrots as a youngster.  Maybe it is something genetic.  The irony is that I am the only one of my siblings who has needed corrective lens (Besides reading glasses).  I'm not sure why I am the one who was blessed with nearsightedness, but I can distinctly remember when I knew I needed glasses.  I was a junior in high school and sitting in my normal seat (The back row of the class).  I had to ask a friend what the teacher was writing on board.  I just figured the teacher had bad had writing, but this started to happen in every class.  The unthinkable was to actually move a seat closer to the front of class, so I went to have my eyes examined.  There was some nearsightedness - Just enough to make objects far away blurry.  Over the years, my vision has slipped a little at a time.  I could actually go without glasses, but I wouldn't be allowed to drive and most things would be blurry.  I would have trouble recognizing people and would have to get very close to signs to read them.  My glasses and contact lens allow me to see things with clarity.

Ephesians 6:12 reminds the follower of Christ that we also need spiritual corrective lens.  Too often we go through life and see what we see.  However, there is much going on in the spiritual realm that we miss because we just go on our own vision.  This vision is limited and keeps us seeing blurry visions.  Often, circumstances only make sense in retrospect because we do not have spiritually clear vision.  This passage is applicable to everything we encounter during the day, if we take the time to see as the Spirit leads.  However, I am usually too busy to stop and look at life from God's perspective.  Most of life is viewed from my perspective and what I can see.  So I guess I actually do have an "I" problem.

Yesterday was a great example:  After church, we planned to pass out flyers to every home on the hill.  This is one of the few times during the year that our church will knock on doors and go out actively in the community.  That process of being in the community is the one thing Satan does not want the church to do.  He doesn't mind if we have great events at our church or plan huge musical events in the church.  He does mind when we go out to share the love of Christ with the community.  We initiate a turf war with him.  So it should not have surprised me when this past Sunday we had the smallest attendance we have had in months.  I looked at the lack of cars in the parking lot and got very discouraged.  There was no way we would have enough people to knock on every door.  As I preached the sermon which I have been working on for months, I got to the final point:  "Trust God's hand".  In front of the congregation, the Holy Spirit reminded me that I had not trusted God's hand, but was only looking at what I could see.  I needed to confess that to the congregation and allow the Lord to give me renewed energy for the day.  I was surprised by the number of people who stayed to pass out flyers and how many homes we were able to visit.  No, we only visited nine of eleven zones, but we ran out of flyers not out of homes or people visiting.  Once again, I had the wrong vision! 

So this week, as we prepare for our Hillcrest Community Fair, I am going to try to have better vision.  Not just with this outreach but in every aspect of my life:  My marriage, my children, my family, my neighbors, my free time, etc.  How about you?  Are you willing to see things from God's perspective and put on His vision so you can see more clearly?  Don't spend this week in blurry vision, but let His Word guide you to see more clearly.  May this Sip From the Well refresh you to have eyes that are open!