Sunday, August 28, 2011

Giving a Concise Answer

How would you answer the following question: " In your personal opinion, what do you understand it takes for a person to get to Heaven?"

We have begun our TOUCH Ministry, in which we go into the community to share the good news.  We are visiting the guests who attended our Hillcrest Community Fair and seeking their opinions about the Fair.  The final question on that survey is the very question at the beginning of this Sip.  Last week, we heard three answers:  One talked about being good and doing the right thing, another talked about Jesus forgiving us of our sin and the third said to go to church and stay on the right path.  Of those three, only one is close to a Biblical answer and it is not very clear.  However, would you believe that all three go to Christian churches and all three probably believe they are saved?  

Before we find fault with others, go back to the answer you gave to that question.  Chances are, the majority of American Christians give a murky and unclear answer to that question.  Many would give an answer that had something to do with faith in Jesus and then add the things Christians are supposed to do (tithe, go to church, etc).  I have asked that question enough and have heard enough unbiblical answers over the years.  It is distressing to think that many (If not the majority) of Christians in our churches cannot give a clear and concise answer to the most critical question we will ever hear.  That would explain why more Christians don't share their faith - They can't express their faith clearly.  I wonder how many of our neighbors, family members and friends who readily commit their lives to Christ if they could just hear a simple, clear understanding of the good news.

So let me see if I can tackle this:  Option #1 - John 1:12.  This passage says we must first of all, believe.  We must believe that sin has separated us from God and that Jesus' death and resurrection paid the price for our sin.  Then we must receive that gift by committing our lives to Jesus.  It begins with a prayer of commitment, allowing Jesus total control of all we do.  How did I do?  Would you know what to do if you were wanting to have the gift of Heaven?  This passage in John simplifies the good news to believing and receiving.  We can't stop at believing, but must take a step of faith to take responsibility and make a decision.

If that is difficult to grasp, let me give you Option #2 - We learn this every year at Vacation Bible School, so it should be in your brain by now.  Getting to Heaven is as simple as ABC.  "A" means we must admit that we sin and are separated from God (Romans 3:23).  "B" means we must believe that Jesus died in the place of our sin and rose from the dead.  "C" means we must commit our lives to Him.  We trade this life for the life to come.  How did I do?  I know, I changed the "C" because Lifeway uses "confess" for the "C".  I just think we live in a society that understands but shies away from commitment.  Would you know what to do if you were wanting the gift of Heaven?

If that is difficult to grasp, let me give you option #3 - Jesus used one phrase to discuss the assurance of Heaven:  "Follow me".  We must make a decision to follow Jesus for the rest of our lives.  He becomes the one we imitate, trust and from whom we receive guidance.  We turn from following our own path of sin and destruction and follow Jesus.  How did I do?  Would you know what to do if you were wanting the gift of Heavean?

Granted, these three options don't go into much depth, but they are simple ways to explain the grace we have received from God.  Once we can't express this critical issue in a few, concise sentences, the doors will open for us to explain to others what we have just shared.  I would challenge you to solidify in your own mind the answer you would give if someone were to ask you, "In your personal opinion, what do you understand it takes for a person to get to Heaven?".  That way, if another church came knocking on your door, they would immediately know they have found a brother or sister in Christ.  That way, we can express our faith to those who are searching for truth in way that clarifies and opens doors.  Be ready to give an answer for the hope you have in Jesus!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Is anyone listening?

Romans 10:13 tells us, "For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  There is no magic formula, no special prayer, no ritual to perform, no great feat to perform and no great price for us to pay.  Everyone - That includes...well...everyone.  Color doesn't matter.  Age doesn't matter.  Socio-economic standing doesn't matter.  Height doesn't matter.  Body type doesn't matter.    Morality doesn't matter.  The Bible lets us know that EVERYONE who sees his/her need for forgiveness and calls out to Jesus WILL be saved.  Not might, or probably or possible, but WILL be saved.  Too many in the church have exalted a thing called "The sinner's prayer" and think there is a specific prayer someone must pray to experience salvation.  God knows out heart and the words often come out in the midst of tears or just a burst of trust.  This passage in Romans is a reminder that salvation is free and available to everyone who would like to have it.  The greatest joy we can have in life is seeing someone take that step of faith.  Last Sunday, we celebrated Thaddeus making that step with his baptism.

This is a great reminder as we begin TOUCH this Wednesday night at 6:30.  TOUCH stands for Telling Others Urgently of Christ and Heaven.  We will meet for thirty minutes of preparation and prayer, then go to visit those who visited us at the Fair.  The purpose of our going is to give these friends an opportunity to call upon the Lord.  If you are able, I pray you will make it to TOUCH each Wednesday night.  If you are unable to be here, I ask that you pray for us as we go out to visit.  Our greatest calling as the church is to give people an opportunity to experience God's great gift of grace through Jesus.  I know that many consider Jesus a myth or think the church is meaningless or think that whatever religion you believe will lead you to Heaven or think being a good person will merit Heaven.  However, the Holy Spirit is the One who will convince those we visit of the need to make the life-changing step to call upon the Lord.    I truly believe that we have divine appointments with people who are just waiting for someone to share THE good news with them.  Several of our trained "witnessers" are not able to participate in TOUCH or no longer in the community.  So now some new servants need to step up and be trained to witness.  Will you be one of them?

For those of you who are a part of Hillcrest Baptist Church:  Please know that there are going to be spiritual battles going on in our homes this week.  They already started last week and some of you might have lost the battle (But not the war).  Be prepared to pray while we are in the midst of TOUCH.  Once the Church decides to go out into the community with the purpose of sharing Christ, Satan will get active against that church.  There will be spiritual battles in our homes, schools, jobs and neighborhoods.  Let me remind you to pray before you act.  Let prayer be a focal point as we seek to tell others about Jesus, not just about the church.  I'm looking forward to the next five weeks and seeing what will happen during this season of outreach.  Will you join us?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What a day!!

I was thinking this afternoon and I have probably been privileged to baptize over 100 people in my lifetime.  The first person I baptized was in 1990 at Waimanalo Beach Park on the windward side of Oahu.  Since that time, I have baptized in the Pacific Ocean, swimming pools, in the ocean near the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and even in baptistries.  I have baptized children as young as four years old and adults as old as 81 years old, and most every age in between.  I have baptized people who were brand new in their faith and others who have been Christians for a while, but never had been baptized.  Each one has been a moving experience for me because each one represented someone close to me personally and someone who now has their name written in the Lambs Book of Life.  The location has never mattered (Although it's tough to beat the Ednie's Pauko beach house).  The only thing that has mattered is the heart of the person who is now following Jesus.  Some of you reading this blog may even have been ones I have been privileged to baptize.  My heart has been touched by each one.

But on Sunday, I was able to perform a baptism that touched me on a deeper level than any other.  I had the incredible privilege of baptizing my seven year old son, Thaddeus.  He gave his life to Christ when he was four but wasn't ready to be baptized until now.  In the same breath, I was able to call him my "brother" in Christ and my "son".  Even now, my eyes begin to tear up when I think about today.  My Mom was able to be here from North Carolina to witness this great event.  My mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, her family and two friends from New Zealand.  I took a moment to look at the congregation when I came into the baptistry and was overwhelmed by the love and support the Hillcrest church family, our family and friends have given in our walk of faith.  Leah and her sister even sang a beautiful duet during the service and we had a cake afterwards to celebrate.  What a glorious day today was.

Romans 6:4 tells us that we have been buried with Christ through baptism so that we too may live a new life.  We baptize by immersion because that is how Jesus was baptized.  We also dunk because that is the only way new Believers were baptized in the New Testament because the Greek word for baptism really means "to immerse in water".  We also dunk because it is a beautiful picture of death, burial and resurrection, which is what happens when we come to Christ.  I praise God that my son is now living for Jesus and has made public his faith in Jesus.

If you have given your life to Christ and not been baptized,  this Sunday you may want to approach your pastor and tell him you are ready to take that step of faith.  If you've not given your life to Christ, why not make that decision right now and invite Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.  Your life will never be the same because He will give you eternal and abundant life.  If you have given your life to Christ and been baptized, take a moment to reflect on the significance of that day.  Maybe even take a moment to send a note of thanks to whoever was instrumental in you coming to Christ or being baptized.  Just like we should always remember the day we were married, we should always cherish the day we were baptized.  I thank God that I was not only there, but was the one who baptized my son.  I think I'll end this blog because I want to sit back and soak in the beauty of this day!

Monday, August 8, 2011


Thank you, Hillcrest Family, for an incredibly memorable and meaningful celebration of ten years as your pastor.  I was overwhelmed by the love and gratitude expressed by you towards me and my family.  The time and preparation which went into just the food was so valuable and remarkable.  I am still stunned by how much of your time and energy went into that meal and celebration.  The cards you gave and the words you shared were very humbling and I am grateful that God could utilize someone like me to make a difference in anyone's life.  Not just on this one occasion, but often, you make me feel encouraged, love and competent.  It's easy to serve with you because of the loving way you have treated me for the past ten years.  Most folks in ministry only hear these kinds of affirmations when they are leaving, retired or at their funeral.  We have several letters Paul sent to churches (Like Galatians, Ephesians, etc.), but we have no record of letters sent to Paul by any of these churches or individuals in those churches.  I think those letters would sound a lot like the cards and letters you have given me this week.  I feel so honored to be your pastor.

Some may think ministry is a lonely profession, but as I reflect on thirty years in ministry, that is not the case.  I remember my last of three Summer at Mount Olive Baptist Church in King, North Carolina.  I had graduated from college and was heading off to Louisville for Summer.  The church had a going-away party with the obligatory rolling of my car in toilet paper.  Though there were tears, the embraces and loving words still make me smile.  Over the years, these folks have stayed in touch with me and continued to love and support me.  I even have the privilege of being involved in the lives of the kids of some of those "youth".  Whenever I am able to make it back to King, I get a wonderful Martha Duggins home-cooked meal and a house full of friends laughing and loving.  Three years later, I was graduating from Southern Seminary in Louisville and was saying good-bye to my friends at Ridgewood Baptist Church.  I had served as Youth Minister during my three years in seminary.  The largest number of kids in that youth group were all graduating from high school the same year.  I remember how deeply I had been touched by that church and especially those seniors.  They had allowed me to become a part of their lives and I am still honored to be involved.  I thank God for Facebook because this has allowed me to reconnect with them.  I have only been back to Louisville one time since graduation, but these wonderful people continue to pray for me, love me and even harass me.  A week after leaving Louisville, I was ordained at my home church, Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro.  My family came and supported me and my Dad even gave the charge to me as a minister.  Quite a few folks from King came to this event and my home church turned out in a big way.  I remember thinking how blessed I was to grow up in a church that supported those who went into ministry.  Over the years, Lawndale has sent work teams to help with a construction project at the church I served on the Big Island.  Several me from Lawndale are my daily prayer partners.  I try to go to Lawndale whenever I am back in Greensboro and always get lots of hugs and love from the "older-timers".  Going to Lawndale is like going to a place of comfort and safety.  Two weeks after I was ordained, I began to work at Hawaii Baptist Academy in Honolulu.  I went to a place where I knew absolutely no one, but within a few months, I had made life long friends.  The students and staff at HBA made such an impact on my life.  Over half of my friends on FB are from HBA.  It is such an honor to still be involved in their lives.  Whenever I travel to an area with an HBA student, I have a place to stay or friends to meet to eat.  Many of them have shared wisdom and comfort with me over the years.  While on Oahu, I joined the First Baptist Church of Pearl City.  The depth of friendships from my five years at this church cannot be explained on any blog.  This church taught me how a church should show the love of Jesus in tangible ways.  They took me in and adopted me, trying to help acculturate me.  Hey, I'll always be a haole from the mainland, but they taught me local ways and introduced me to local foods.  I remember in 1991 when I was waiting at the interisland terminal for my flight that would take me from Honolulu to the Kamuela where I was to begin pastoring the First Baptist Church of Waimea.  I can still close my eyes and look around that airport at so many friends who were there to see me off.  I was covered in so many leis, I had enough for every person on my flight, so I shared those leis.  I remember thinking, "why am I leaving this place?", but I knew I was following God's direction.  When I landed on the Big Island, I was greeted at the airport by one of the members of the First Baptist Church of Waimea.  He said that he would take me to the parsonage, but that there would be nothing planned until the next night when I was to meet with the Pastor Search Committee.  I was a little relieved because saying "aloha" to all of my friends on Oahu had been a bittersweet experience.  I didn't want to be around people.  Imagine my surprise when I walked into a parsonage full of people.  It was an incredible welcome and I still remember some of those conversations.  Ten years later, God would lead my, along with my wife of seven years, to California.  I remember the send off at the Kona airport and seeing the faces of those wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ.  For ten years, we had laughed, love and served together.  It really was like leaving family.  In each of these places where God has taken me to minister, I have enjoyed building true friendships.  Many of these friendships have stretched over thirty years and some over thousands of miles.  When I see their faces, I can't help but smile.  Some even make me laugh (You know who you are).

I have seen the old, grainy video of Lou Gherig's retirement speech when he says the immortal words, "Today I feel like the luckiest man alive".  I don't feel like a lucky man.  I feel like a rich man.  Being obedient to Jesus has allowed me to meet some of the most wonderful people in the world.  I have the privilege of calling them "Friend".  They pray for me, love me even though they know how flawed I am and would be willing to help in an instant if I ever asked.  Many people go through their entire lives and may not even make on true friend.  How blessed am I to have some many true friends?  Riches cannot be measured by a bank account.  Riches can't be measured by popularity or how easy your name is to google.  In God's economy, riches have to do with eternity, with things that last.  I am rich because I have friendships that will stretch through eternity.  Even if I don't see these friends again in this life, we will party with Jesus in the next life.  I am so blessed by God!

I apologize for rambling in this Sip, but Sunday night was overwhelming for me.  I really don't know how to express my gratitude to Hillcrest Baptist Church for this affirmation.  It simply brought to mind what an honor it is as a minister of the Gospel to be allowed into the private world of so many people.  For those of you who have allowed me that privilege, please know how honored I am by that and how blessed you have made my life.  I hope this Sip will be an encouragement to you because if you have invested eternity into others, you also have riches which your bank account cannot contain.  Enjoy being rich, but pass on the key to these riches to others:  Jesus.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believers in Him would not perish but have eternal life.