Sunday, December 18, 2011

Every now and then

Almost all of my life I have played competitive sports or been involved in some type of athletic endeavor.  Even now that I am 50, I go to the gym at least four times a week to stay in shape.  In athletics, you are always trying to push yourself to improve.  Even when a team wins the World Series, Super Bowl or NBA championship, the talks quickly turns to next year.  I remember a a professional surfer, Joey Buran, talking about seeing his dream come true as he won the Pipleline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu in 1984.  He stood on the stand and was given his trophy and his check.  Pictures were taken and the crowd was cheering.  Then a storm rolled in and before he could even soak in his victory, the beach was empty except for the guys breaking down the winner's stand.  There was no time to stop and celebrate.  It was there one moment and in a blink of an eye, it was gone.

I remember being chosen to play basketball for Athletes In Action in 1987.  I was going to go on a tour of the Philippines and Korea, playing with a group of college basketball players.  I had never even played on my high school basketball team but had played tons of basketball all of my life.  To prepare, I spent two hours every morning in the gym working on my shot and preparing my body to play at this level.  I was in the best shape of my life, but I was in over my head.  Everyone on the team was a better player than I was.  I could look at my game and see the many ways I needed to improve.  During our tour, I worked on those parts of my game and to this day, I still try to improve as a basketball player.  There never was a time when I stopped and thought to myself, "I have finally arrived as a basketball player".  There was always a way to improve.  I have included a picture of that team.  See if you can find me in the picture and win a prize.

As followers of Christ, we seek to meet a standard we can never meet.  We want to live like Jesus lived, even though we know we will never be able to do that.  We always see ways we can improve.  We know our sins.  We know where we fall short.  So we rarely ever stop and celebrate the steps we have already made.  Unfortunately, we become driven by what we can "do" rather than remembering to celebrate what Christ is doing in us.  We don't stop and affirm what we see in the growth of others or ourselves.  This is sad but true and can often make Christians look neurotic and maybe even become obsessive or guild-ridden.

So I want to take a moment in this week's Sip to celebrate.  Our church set a goal of $2,012 for our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.  For those of you not versed in Southern Baptist lore, Lottie Moon was a missionary to China who gave her life on this field.  We have an annual missions offering which helps finance the work of our missionaries all over the world.  Hillcrest is not a large church with only about 80 people on a Sunday morning.  Last year, our giving to Lottie Moon was a little over $1,300.  Understanding the terrible financial situation of the Bay Area meant that this goal was HUGE for our church.  Yet today, we surpassed that goal by over $1,000!  I am blown away by the generosity of our church.  The only way we reached this goal was by members sacrificially giving.  This has probably affected how much our members can spend on their own Christmas celebrations.  But this will impact lives all over the world.  Every now and then, we need to stop and say "Well Done".  To the Hillcrest family, I want to tell you how proud I am of you and how honored I am to be in ministry with you.  You have done a fantastic job.  Certainly, we are not where we need to be, but you have shown faith and generosity.

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi in Philippians 4:15-16, "Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the Gospel, when I set our from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you only;  for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again".  The church at Philippi was financial poor, but rich in generosity.  Hillcrest family, this describes you.  Thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many in our world.  May you have a blessed Advent.  May this Sip refresh you as you stop and celebrate your dedication to Christ.  Well done, good and faithful servants.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Today, Thaddeus and I went to Mitch Abbott's home to watch the Green Bay Packers play the Oakland Raiders.  Mitch is a serious Raiders fan, so today was difficult for him.  The Packers soundly defeated the Raiders in a game that was never even close.  Why did we want to watch this game?  Well the Packers are undefeated this season and have the rare opportunity to go the entire season (Regular season and playoffs) undefeated.  The way they played today, it certainly seems possible.  Of course, the Packers are just one injury away from failing miserably and maybe even losing in the first round of the playoffs.  There are so many factors that determine the outcome of a season for an NFL team.  Just ask the Indianapolis Colts about losing Peyton Manning for the season and they will confirm what I have said.

I remember in 1972 when the Miami Dolphins became the first team in NFL history to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl.  They had a perfect record of 17-0.  They had the No-Name defense along with players like Mercury Morris, Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield and Bob Griese.  I was eleven years old at the time and watched as this team made history.  We watched the Super Bowl (I was pulling for the Redskins) as the Dolphins completed their undefeated run with a 14-7 win.  The most memorable moment of the game was Garo Yepremian trying to pass after a botched field goal attempt only to have Mike Bass return it for the 'Skins only touchdown of the day.  But when the dust settled, the Dolphins had made history and no other team has been able to duplicate that perfection.

I began to think about other professional sports leagues and undefeated teams.  Below are the four major professional sports leagues in America and the number of teams that have gone undefeated:
The National Football League - 1, the 1972 Miami Dolphins
The National Basketball Association - 0
Major League Baseball - 0
The National Hockey League - 0

Advent is the realization that without Jesus, we will never enter Heaven.  We must be covered in His righteousness or we will never see eternal life.  He is perfect because we are not.  Rather than mankind working their way towards God, God came to mankind.  He came wrapped in the frailty of humanity, as the Savior of the world.  He came as Immanuel - "God with us".  He lived on the earth and was perfect.  Then the only one to reach perfection sacrificed His own life on the cross for the rest of mankind.  On the third day, He rose from the dead and offers eternal life to anyone who will believe and receive Him as their personal Savior.  Advent!  Awesome!

Yet, I am always amazed at how followers of Christ can then try to act like they have perfection in their own lives.  We come to church and never let anyone see the kinks in our armor.  We don't want people to know we are struggling with our marriage or struggling with our kids or discouraged about our job or getting hammered by Algebra.  We feel like we have to act our the charade of being perfect because Christians aren't supposed to have messed up lives.  Can we please be real with each other and come to church to be encourage and to encourage others who are imperfect?  Can we love each other and share our struggles and spiritual strongholds?  I mean, if only one professional team has ever been perfect for a season and only one person ever been perfect, can we not actually allows ourselves to experience God's grace in our imperfection?  May this Advent season find you at peace with your flaws and failures.  May it find you willing to love others who blow it.  May it allow you the courage to share your heart with others.  May it give you the strength to try to please God just one more time.  May you be refreshed this Advent season.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Now that's a long time!!

This morning, we looked at the prophecy of Micah concerning Jesus as the Messiah.  As I prepared this sermon, I was once again amazed at the accuracy of the prophet to describe the Messiah.  So I went back and looked up a few more passages which predict the Messiah's birth.  Josh McDowell states in his book, "Evidence that Demands A Verdict" that there are over 300 Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah fulfilled in the life of Jesus.  I won't look at all three hundred, but will take a moment to peruse a few of them.

Isaiah (Writing in the 700's BC) wrote these prophecies - The New Testament fulfillment is beside it:
7:14  The Messiah would be born of a virgin     Matthew 1:18
11:1  The Messiah would be from the family line of Jesse    Luke 3:23, 32
7:14  The Messiah would be called Immanuel("God with Us")  Matthew 1:23
40:3  The Messiah would be preceded by a messenger    Matthew 3:1-2

Micah (Writing between 740-700 BC) wrote these prophecies:
5:2  The Messiah would be born in Jerusalem    Matthew 2:1
5:2  The Messiah would be pre-existent    Colossians 1:17

Jeremiah (Writing between 627-600 BC) wrote that the King would kill children after the birth of the Messiah in Jeremiah 31:15.    Matthew 2:16

These are just a few prophecies about the birth of Jesus.  I have even gone into the myriad of prophecies about His ministry, His life, His death or His resurrection.  If you read these passages, you will find specific information about the Messiah who will save the world from their sin.  There would only be one Messiah.  Now either the Bible is accurate on this and is fully trustworthy on all matters or it is wrong about this an not trustworthy in any matter.  There is no middle ground.  If these prophecies are true, then Jesus really is the only one who can save us from our sins.  He is to be worshiped, trusted, followed and obeyed.  So check out the dates of these writers.  The writers give us these prophecies centuries before Jesus is born.  They are compiled and placed into the Bible so that generations to come can see the accuracy of our God.  You see, Jesus was not a fall back plan by God.  He was not a quick injection into a sticky situation.  He was not a band-aid on an unexpected cut.  No, Jesus Advent was planned from the beginning of time.  God becoming man and becoming the perfect sacrifice was always what God was going to do.  These prophecies bear this out.

Okay, so let's put this into our context.  Six hundred years ago was the beginning of the 1400's.  Western man still believed the earth was flat, the Americas had not been discovered and Joan of Arc had just been born.  If you were alive then, could you have accurately predicted things like airplane travel?  The Internet? The United States of America?  And if you could predict the coming of the USA, could you have told us about the president in 2012?  That is what these prophets had done.  Okay, so you think you are up to the challenge?  In the year 2612, what will our world look like?  Tell me the leader of one country and what he or she will be like?  Can you do it?  Of course not, so we begin to see how incredible these prophecies are.

During Advent season, some overweight dude in the scarlet threads gets all the pub.  He is as real as the Great Pumpkin.  However, the Messiah...the King of Kings...Immanuel...Son of David...The Good Shepherd....The Lilly of the Valley...The Bright and Morning Star...Jesus SHOULD be getting the pub.  Will you take a moment to read through those prophecies again and commit to sharing them with someone?  It may just change their world!!  Please remember who you serve during this Advent season.  We serve the true Messiah who is the Lamb of God!