Monday, December 17, 2012

The Challenge of Comfort

We are all aware of the tragic shootings which took place in Newtown, Connecticut this past week.  Less than forty-eight hours after this heinous event took place, politicians, media talking heads, bloggers, radio show hosts and even people on Facebook were pontificating about the causes of this senseless violence.  There is already a call for stricter gun control laws with our president vowing this will never happen again.  I have heard the prattle that stricter laws would have kept this from happening (Even though the shooter broke over 40 laws in existence while committing this violence).  I have heard the prattle that had their been a policeman with a gun or if the principal or teachers had been armed, the shooter would have been killed before he could do any damage.  People have held vigils in front of the White House, asking the president to end violence by taking away the amount of guns and ability to get guns.  I have heard people comment about the amount of armed guards surrounding the president, even as he spoke out against automatic weapons and in favor of stricter gun laws.  People have gone to Facebook to post pithy little sayings, supporting their point of view.  This morning on CNN, they held their news from Newtown and spent over an hour reporting on this tragedy.  Then one of their commercials was an advertisement for the latest assassin video game with the tag line being, “Rated the number one shooter game in America”.  In the days to come, we will be inundated with people who have the solution to this problem:  Stricter guns laws, more citizens carrying guns, mental health improvement, better parental involvement, dangers of medication given to children and much more.  All the while, the next person is plotting how much damage he can do and the publicity which will be stirred by the gruesome act he is planning.

The truth is that the cause of this violence is far deeper than can be addressed on a Facebook post or a blog or on a newscast or an op-ed piece.  As followers of Christ, we know the issue gets back to our most basic human problem:  sin.  This is not giving a simple answer to a complex problem.  Yet, sin really is the root cause of the problems in our world.  We also know that sin will never be eradicated, which is the reason laws continue to be enacted to curb the base instincts of humanity caused by sin.

However, lost in all of the rhetoric is the pain of loss.  Parents have lost children.  Children have lost mothers.  Children have lost classmates.  When the political and media pay-off isn’t there anymore, the politicians and news will pack up for the next calamity.  Oh, they will always bring up Sandy Hook again whenever it is expedient for the cause they are pushing.  But the parents of those students will forever have a loss which cannot be replaced.  Only those who have lost children can understand the pain these parents are experiencing.  Unfortunately, politicians and the media will interview and quote the parents whose words fit their agenda.  But the pain of these parents will never go away.  There will always be a place at the table which is empty.  There is a bed which may never hold another child.  There is a room which carried the unique decorating of that child which is now empty.  There are arms longing to embrace a child who will never come home.  Birthdays will come and go with parents wondering what their child would be like at a certain age.  The town will grieve and mourn, but life will not stop for them.  The mundane aspects of life (Like work, bills, preparing meals, etc.) will all be awaiting them in the near future.  The publicity and out pouring will move on once another “tragedy” strikes.  Then, parents will have to find a way to place their memories in a perspective that is healing rather than destructive.  In a perspective which will lead to an appreciation, not depression.  It will take more than months or years.  This is a loss that will color their entire lives, from which there is no escape(Nor would any parent want to escape the memory of his/her child).

Our church challenge for 2012 was “Comfort”.  In Isaiah 40:1-2, we see God’s call to His people is to bring, not just comfort, but comfort comfort.   God repeats the word comfort to us as a reminder that comforting those in need is an investment which may not have a pay-off any time soon.  The chief call to the follower of Christ is not to pass laws seeking to end gun violence, but to bring comfort in our corner of the world.  There are people all around us who are struggling to cope with life, especially during the month of December.  There are many around us who are thinking about giving up and see no reason to live.  We are called to have eyes that see beyond our own world and look for the hurts of others.  Jesus told us in Matthew 25 that whenever we do this for someone, we have actually touched the face of Jesus. 

I cannot and will not even attempt to give answers concerning this tragedy in Connecticut.  My Facebook will never post a “bumper sticker” with quick words about how to fix things.  Because of sin, there are not easy answers and quick fixes.  However, I want to be more faithful in reaching out to those who appear as outcasts and loners.  I want to reach out to those suffering loss and bring them a sense of God’s comfort and peace.  Maybe that is avoiding the issue, but I would rather be an instrument of God’s healing than invest my limited energy ranting about that which I cannot fix.  As a follower of Christ, will you take the time today to look with the eyes of Jesus?  Will you reach out to someone who appears to be hurting?  Will you seek to bring comfort, comfort to your corner of the world?  Will you seek to embrace with your arms rather than confront with your words?  Giving comfort is not for the timid nor easily discouraged.  It is a calling which will radically change our priorities and the lives around us.  Will you keep responding to the 2012 challenge to comfort?

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Lesson Learned?

"I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people's accomplishment.  The front page has nothing but man's failures."    Earl Warren 

The reality of my life is that most of my life's greatest lessons have been learned or sharpened in the sporting arena.  Sports offers us a wonderful opportunity to see our weaknesses and push ourselves to excellence.  Team sports can help us understand more about serving in a church than most any other experience.  Individual sports teach us about determination, sacrifice and endurance.


We have become a nation enthralled with watching sports.  We would be much better served to play sports than watch them.  We would have much less obesity, depression and illness if we would spend one half of the football game we plan to watch exercising, then watch the second half.  Of course, most Americans are addicted to entertainment, so I doubt this will happen any time soon.  The lessons we would learn if we would only participate rather than just watch sports are life lessons which prove invaluable.

Unfortunately, this obsession also affects the examples we have in life.  Too many people want to imitate the athletes in how they dress, talk and walk.  Charles Barkley put this into perspective when he said:  "These are my new shoes.  They're good shoes.  They won't make you rich like me, they won't make you rebound like me, they definitely won't make you handsome like me.  They'll only make you have shoes like me.  That's it."  What a wonderful reality check as Michael Jordan just unveiled his latest shoe line, which costs $250.  There will be people in America who MUST have these new shoes and will dish out that kind of money for a pair of shoes.  Whatever happened to PF Flyers which promised to make us run faster and jump higher for only $10?


I've learned many lessons playing sports and continue to learn them as I continue to play sports.  One of the game changing lessons I learned came from my Dad and involved the sport of tennis.  For those who don't know me, I have just a bit of a temper.  As a teenager, I was playing tennis when angry players like Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe were at their zenith.  So the natural thing for me to do was express my anger on the court like they did.  Now, my Dad was not really known for being quiet or docile and was rather passionate himself.  He and I would play each other in tennis, just banging away at each other with my Dad usually dusting me.  I knew I had finally improved when one Saturday, he invited me to play doubles with his usual crew.  As a cocky teenager, I thought, "I'm going to show these old men how to play."  Well, older players may not have the strength, but they have the wisdom and guile which comes from experience.  So they were wearing me out and I was getting frustrated and voicing my frustration.  To me, I was just doing what I normally did on the court, but my Dad was having none of it.  After the first set, he pulled me aside and told me that if I didn't watch my temper, there would be a huge price to pay when we got home.  Of course, that only stoked my fire.  Though I kept quiet for the rest of the matches, I was fuming when we got into the car to leave.  Before my Dad started the car, he looked at me and said, "If this is the way you are going to play tennis, I suggest that you quit.  You embarrassed me in front of my friends.  Your lack of composure will do you in one day unless you get it under control."  That became a turning point for me as I began to see how my temper was not only affecting me, but those close to me.  I still have a long way to go, but I thank God for a loving, Godly father who was willing to point out my flaws, speaking hard truths to me.

Proverbs 14:17 - "A quick tempered man does foolish things."
Proverbs 14:29 - "A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly."
Proverbs 19:19 - "A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again."

I share that lesson to remind you that we each have lessons we need to learn in life.  As you run your race, what lessons are you learning?  If you need a few new ones, get on the court, ball field or gridiron and let God speak into your life.  then put those lessons into practice.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tis the Season

Tragic news greeted the sporting world on Saturday as Kansas City Chiefs' linebacker, Jovan Belcher, took the life of his girlfriend and then took his own life at the team's practice facility.  The families and the Chiefs are heartbroken and struggling to understand how this could happen.  Belcher was only twenty-five years old, a professional athlete with a bright future, but all of that ended suddenly.  I'm sure there will be an investigation, which will probably find no easy answers to this tragedy.  How does someone who is so young with so much ahead of him become so hopeless that the only way out is death?

I bring this up, not to make light of this situation nor to try to devise any answers, but to remind us that this is the season of depression.  The suicide rate actually doubles during the month of December, which tells us that depression should be taken seriously.  We too often look at this season as a time of joy, when in reality, for many people, it is a most-depressing time.  There are a variety of factors for this:  Many who have lost loved ones during the year are facing the pain of Christmas without that loved one.  Many have high expectations for the season and then they are not met, depression overwhelms.  Many are simply lonely and this time of the year magnifies that loneliness.  The rush of the season, but itself, can cause overwhelming stress.  There are so many expectations and activities that we get overloaded.  The list could go on and on.  One of the holiday classics, "It's A Wonderful Life" shows a powerful portrait of a man who has lost hope during the holidays.

I share this, not to rain on your parade, but to make us aware that there are many hurting people around us.  We have a fantastic opportunity to offer the true hope of the "Holy-days" in Jesus.  Psalm 42:5 puts it this way:  "Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why do disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will praise my Savior and my God."  Too many around us have lost hope because they have placed their hope in things that cannot bring them lasting hope.  We have peace for a moment, but that peace if fleeting.  If we would take the time to slow down, we would see a slew of hurting people around us.  They have lost their way, have lost their passion, have lost their energy and have lost their hope.  Yet our hope is in the Lord.  Isaiah 40:31 tells us that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  God promises to be our strength when we put our hope in Him.  He is our lasting hope.

To what have you been turning to for hope?  Your success?  A relationship?  Our money?  A drink of a drug?  Sports?  Friends?  Church?  If we are ultimately trusting anything other than Jesus, we will be disappointed and left empty.  Embrace Jesus for your hope and then you can help others who are hopeless.  Would you keep your eyes open this week for those who seem to have lost their hope?  Will you take a moment to listen to their story and try to help them turn to the only One who can give lasting hope?  Jesus, the Messiah?  May this Sip help you satisfy your thirst in Jesus.  Tis the season for more than depression - Hope in Jesus!

Monday, November 26, 2012


Today is something that is called "Cyber Monday".  The term made it's debut in 2008 as merchants tried to attract customers to buy on-line the Monday after Thanksgiving.  It has now become the busiest day for on-line purchases with the total being over $1.2 billion.  That's a lot of money being spent on one day.  One of the greatest dangers to this trend is the use of credit cards.  To purchase items on-line, the user must have a credit card for these purchases.  Even a cursory look at American spending habits shows that we have a serious credit card problem in this country.  The average American household owes over $8,500 in credit card debt.  This debt can't be paid off at the end of the month, which means the huge APRs affect finances.  65% of all Americans have so much credit that they only make the minimum payment every month.  This means we are squandering money by spending huge amounts of it on interest.  

Proverbs 22:7 says, "The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is the slave to the lender".  A while back, we heard about the 1% and how much wealth they have.  The media has treated the rich as evil, when really, the poor have made them wealthy.  Every time we pay interest on a credit card, we just helped make the rich richer.  Many Americans are upset over the wealth of the 1%, but those same folks who are upset are making it possible for the rich to be rich.  Credit card debt is the easiest way to make sure the 1% have more money.  If we really want equity, we should stop using credit cards unless we can pay off the balance at the end of each month.  As long as we owe, we become a slave to the one we owe.  We have limited God's movement in our lives because we have no freedom.  We can't tithe because we are stretched so thin financially with all of our bills and debt.  We aren't able to go on mission trips because we can't afford time off from work.  Or we just chuck it all and walk away from our debts by claiming bankruptcy.  None of these options are pleasing to God.

Why do we have debt?  We want things we can't afford.  We want things for our children we can't afford.  Instead of driving a used car, we have to have a new car.  We have to have the latest phone.  We have to have to newest computer.  We have to have the latest sneakers.  The list goes on and on.  The bottom line:  We aren't satisfied with what God has already given us.  Rather than be grateful for what we already have, we buy more things to go into an already-packed full closet.  We look at how much our monthly payment will be rather than praying and asking God if this is necessary.  Then we pass it on to the next generation as our children learn to go into debt watching us go into debt.  They think it is normal to have several maxed our credit cards, a house payment, a car payment, a student loan, etc.  

As followers of Christ, we need to end this madness in our lives.  The financial debt we have incurred need to be paid off and no new debt needs to be taken.  We need to honestly look at our lives and determine "need" versus "want".  December is a perfect time to look at this because advertisers are working overtime to make sure we know what we need and how easy it will be to get it.  Just whip out the Master Card and you can have it today.  This is a perfect time for us to teach our children the discipline of paying as you go.  Maybe we need to tell our children and grandchildren that we just can't afford more stuff.  Maybe there is more we can "do" this Christmas rather than "buy" this Christmas.

There is only one debt that is good:  The debt we owe to God for offering Jesus as the sacrifice for our sin.  This is a debt of love which allows us to live a life of worship.  This debt causes us to be thankful and generous because God has been so generous to us.  The advent of Jesus is the ultimate debt payment:  Jesus paid the debt for our sin that we couldn't afford.  Sin will cost us our souls, but Jesus redeemed that debt.  Have you trusted Jesus with your debt of sin?  It changes our entire outlook on life.

So don't let Cyber Monday rule your day.  Let the love of God, which dwells in your richly, rule your life and advent!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Broken Promise?

Psalm 33:12  "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance."

On August 5, 1620, two ships set sail from Southampton, England headed to the New World.  However, the Speedwell was found to be leaking and both ships returned to Dartmouth, England for repairs.  They set out again after repairs, but once again, the Speedwell was taking on water.  They returned once again to Plymouth where 102 Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower for the trip to the New World.  They left on September 6th and arrived at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620.  They had missed their destination of the Virginia Colony and so they authored and signed the Mayflower Compact as their charter.  This document would serve as a model for other American documents, like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  The wording of the Mayflower Compact begins, "In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.  Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620." (This version has modern language to help us better understand the document).

There had been two other attempts to establish a colony in the New World:  (1)  Roanoke Island, North Carolina on August 17, 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh.  On August 15, 1890 a resupply ship arrived to find the entire colony gone without a trace.  No one knows what happened to the "Lost Colony".  (2)  The first permanent settlement in the New World was at Jamestown, Virginia on May 14, 1607 with the purpose being to establish wealth, trade and commerce.  From the beginning, this settlement had overwhelming problems and struggles.   Yet they established the first permanent settlement in North America.

Why, then, do we celebrate and know more about the rag tag Pilgrims than we do about the strongly financed and armed Jamestown settlement? I believe it is because the purpose of the Pilgrims:  They came to worship God and serve Him in this new land.  If you read the history of the two settlements, there is a marked contrast in the growth and attitude within these two.  The faith of the Pilgrims led them to follow the Bible, which helped them as they wrote their Mayflower Compact - A promise made to God.  America began with a prominent faith in God, which wee have often heard about in our founding fathers.  Though secular historians enjoy trying to rewrite the history to change the faith of these founders, their words speak of their deep faith.  They saw America as a nation which would honor God and have His blessings as they became a light of morality and faith in the world.  They knew the promise which America made with God.  Truly, a unique nation among the world.

So what is the significance of this?  I give this introduction of our history as a reminder of the promise we have had with God as a country.  Today, America has chosen to ignore this legacy of faith and turns towards immorality and human solutions rather than faith in Christ.  We have begun to trust ourselves, our politicians, our power and our finances more than we trust in God.  Therefore, we have become a nation under God's judgment.  Our immorality testifies against us and our misplaced trust becomes part of the judgment.

I looked through some of the times in the Old Testament when Israel was under God's judgment and found these qualities to be at work each time the nation was under God's judgment:
1.  The country refused to acknowledge they were under God's judgment
2.  They justified their sins and sought to normalize immoral behavior
3.  They sought human solutions to the problems brought on by judgment - Which only led to further judgment
4.  They sought to marginalize those who would call them to return to God.
5.  They sought to popularize worship of God by incorporating pagans gods and rituals into the worship of God or as other options to God

Would any of this apply to American today?  In such a short blog, it's impossible to go into great detail, but look at each one of these for yourself and you will find America involved in all five.  My quick take:
1.  When was the last time an American political leader or religious leader told us that our problems weren't financial, but were spiritual?
2.  The sin of divorce, cohabitation and homosexuality have all become mainstreamed and lost any negative stigma.  As a matter of fact, there are churches which give leadership to those in these life settings with no regard to Biblical admonitions.  We have an accepted level of vulgarity, violence, thuggery and indignity that is stunning and thorough.
3.  Each solution our politicians give us (Government take-over of Fannie Mae/Freddy Mac, two stimulus packages, government take-over of health care) have all made our situation worse, not better.  We continue to look for human solutions rather than repenting and turning to God.
4.  Anyone who calls for morality and repentance receives a label and is pushed to the fringe edges as an extremist.  If you have read this far in this blog, you have already had thoughts that Ted is a little off.  You didn't know I was such a far right, Bible thumping nut job.
5.  There is a church for any proclivity you may have.  Our churches try to compete with Hollywood by being just as entertaining with music, technology, hip looking preachers, self-help messages and a dose of cultural relevance.

If you think America is under God's judgment, there is only one solution and it is found in II Chronicles 7:14.  God is speaking to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple and letting Solomon know what Israel must do if she finds herself under judgment because they have abandoned God.  "If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked days, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  Notice, this call of repentance is not to the lost, but to the saved.  The Church must stop pointing a finger at the world, and point her finger at herself.  The Church needs to repent and turn.  God's acts of judgment are to serve as a wake up call, not to destroy us.  But if we won't respond, the downfall of America is imminent.

Every night before I go to sleep, I make sure my two sons are tucked in and sleeping safely.  I look down on their angelic faces deep in sleep and pray for them.  Many are the nights when I place my hand on them and pray for them.  there are nights when I weep for these young ones because I fear for the America which will be handed over to them, a country under God's judgment.  I pray that they will be strong warriors for Christ to endure what lies ahead.  Maybe I am a pessimist because I don't see America turning back to God, but continuing to seek her own solutions.  My hope for my sons is that America will see she has broken a promise made by those who came 400 years ago and turn back to our loving Heavenly Father.  Because "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance."

Monday, November 5, 2012

What a Surprise!!

Tomorrow, our country will go to the polls to vote for a president, other officials and different ballot measures.  If you are like me, you are quite sick of all the campaign information.  I have grown weary of seeing the Facebook posts which usually run down one candidate or the other.  I have been embarrassed to see how angry family and friends are about one candidate or the other.  I cast my ballot several weeks ago, so it's been easy to tune out the election hoopla.  I know that Barack Obama cannot fix what ails our country.  I know Mitt Romney doesn't have the solution for the deep problems of our country.  I'm not looking to a politician to bring lasting change because they are the ones who got us in the bind to begin with.  My hope is found in Jesus, the salvation He offers and the abundant life He has given.  So I thought I would let me blog for this week be an escape for you if you have tired of this election cycle.

For the past few weeks, I knew that Leah had planned a trip for us.  She would not reveal the location, only to let me know that we were taking a trip.  She found someone to preach for me and lead the music for her.  She asked family and friends to watch our two sons and found a kennel for our dog.  It would be just the two of us from Friday morning until Monday evening.  She led me to believe that we would be going to Denver, Colorado.  Great location for us since we have several wonderful friends who live in Denver.  One of those is Evan Dalrymple, who was the best man at my wedding and who sings the national anthem before Denver Broncos' home games.  I checked the schedule and the Broncos were at home, so I figured we would be going to a game with Evan.  Not a bad way to spend a weekend away from the kids and work.  Oh, but my wife is tricky.  Many of you are under the false impression that I am the trouble-maker in the family.  You need to know that Leah is really the one you need to watch and keep an eye on. She fooled me.

The day before we leave, it is time to pack, so she tells me our destination...the Big Island of Hawaii.  Of all the locations on earth, the Big Island is my favorite.  We lived there for ten years and it still has the unspoiled beauty of old Hawaii along with some of the friendliest people I have ever met.  We didn't tell anyone we were going, we just hopped on the plane and headed to Kona.  Our first clue to family and friends was the picture we took at the Kona airport and sent to our Facebook pages.  Before we could check Facebook several hours later, the messages were lighting up asking if we were on the Big Island.  It wasn't really a people trip, but a place trip.  After the busyness of adopting Caleb, along with lots of work at the church, we were looking forward to relaxing and enjoying God's beauty.   Before our first day was over, we had gone to two wonderful beaches and driven to Kamuela to eat at Yong's Kalbi.  

We soaked up as much of the beauty of the Big Island as possible.  Here are some of those places:
 A beautiful Big Island sunset with the moon glistening beside Mauna Kea
 Paddling a kayak in Puako
 The Ednie's wonderful beach house in Puako
Leah doing the "Scutaro" at Mauna Kea Beach
Hiking to Maumae Beach
 Hapuna Beach
Kiholo Beach
Rock graffiti on the side of the road which we made in honor of the Giants winning the World Series

We were definitely sad to leave our Big Island after such a relaxing and beautiful trip.

However, what made the trip more special was the wonderful friends we were able to see and with whom we reconnected.  The faces of those wonderful friends brought a joy to my life.  It reminded me of the hours we had spent together, serving the Lord and ministering to each other.  We had friends join us to eat.
We had friends open their homes to us.  We had friends who asked us to stop by and when we arrived, they weren't home (Not to mention any names, but Linda Tohara, this was the second time you did this to us)

We came back refreshed by a place which is very special to us.  We asked God to make the days long in a good way, and He answered that prayer.  We asked, each day, He would give us the opportunity to encourage someone...and He did.  We even got to experience a tsunami while we were there.  One of the churches even put me to work during the tsunami, so we still were involved in ministry.  I am grateful that God allowed us this opportunity to return to the Big Island.  This surprise from my wife was the best gift I have received in a long time and the memories of this trip will linger for years to come.  Whenever things get a little crazy, in my mind I will just drift back to Hapuna, Manua Kea Beach, Puako, Anaehoomalu Bay or Kiholo.  When the media and friends are all in a tizzie over the election, I will drift off in my mind to one of these places - Feel the sun shine, the gentle trade winds and the splash of the ocean.  I know, this isn't the most deep and spiritually profound blog, but I hope you enjoyed getting away from the noise and commotion of your life to relax in the sun drenched beauty of God's wonderful creation of the Big Island.  By the way, how about asking God to give you someone to encourage today and see what happens.  Sip in it, hang loose, relax and don't forget to tip your driver!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Into the Family

In 2008, Leah, Thaddeus and I began a journey towards adopting a new family member.  We went to informational sessions and sought God's will in choosing whether to adopt domestically or internationally.  Then we asked God's guidance in selecting the right agency to guide us through this journey.  Then we had to attend training sessions and then fill out paper work, more paper work and much more paper work.  We had to complete a home study and our agency then prepared the study to be given to county social workers in California.  Then we began the "child search" process which was going to be more lengthy for us because we could only have one child, we had a specific gender and approximate age range.  In December of 2010, we were contacted about an eight month old boy who was needing to be adopted.  This was definitely not what we were expecting because we had hoped to adopt a boy closer to Thaddeus' age.  I was not ready to change diapers again and seriously had to look at the age issue.  When this child graduates from high school, I would be in my late 60's.  Was it really fair to this child for his father to be as old as his friend's grandparents?  We spent the Christmas vacation praying about this and had serious discussions about the next step.  So in January, we met the little fellow.  My age played a big factor in my hesitancy in meeting him, but he certainly had personality to spare and was so loving.  As we prayed, we felt God's leading to follow through with this child and so we began to spend more time with him.  In March of 2011, we took the step to have him become our Foster child and move into our home.  The next month, he celebrated his first birthday with us.  The wheels of a domestic adoption can move slowly and it wasn't until October of 2012 that we finally had the clearance and court date for adopting this child.  Many of you knew something was happening, but we couldn't share on-line about his or our progress because of privacy rights within the Foster Care system.  On Thursday, October 18th at 11:15 AM, Caleb Goslen legally joined our family.  His birth certificate will have us as his parents.  He is now a member of our family and there is no turning back.  Now, we begin the journey of raising him in the way the Lord wants Caleb to go.  We are now stewards of this life for the next sixteen years as we prepare Caleb to be the man God wants him to be.  Quite a tall order.

I have learned a lot in this journey called adoption.  I have learned that God's timing is usually slower than mine, no matter how hard I push it.  I am having to learn continuously to trust God heart when I cannot see His hand.  I have been reminded that God's plan is usually different from mine.  There are nights when I put Caleb to bed that I wonder how an old guy like me is supposed to be the active father he needs.  I have asked God numerous times during this process if I was being selfish or trying to be faithful to Him.  I have learned to be weak and let others help me because there are times I am overwhelmed.  I have learned to listen to God's Word and allow Him to comfort me through His Word and those who are close to me.  I have learned that I need to keep myself in good shape so I can run and play with Caleb as he grows up.  I have learned that there are a lot of hurting kids in our country who need loving homes.  We purposely chose to not adopt overseas because we saw such a great need in our own country.  I have learned to listen to my wife more than usual because I have a tendency to do my own thing and do it my way.  I have watched as the Goslen, Boggs and Huyhn families have embraced and also adopted Caleb.  I have watched as Thaddeus has gone through the peaks and valleys of being an older brother.  I have learned to be grateful for a loving church family who is just as excited about Caleb joining our family as we are.  The lessons are much deeper and personal than this, but this will have to do for this Sip.

People have asked us why we wanted to adopt:  Our response is that we wanted Thaddeus to have a brother so that he would have a life-long sibling in which he could share, learn and grow.  When Thaddeus met Caleb for the first time, he prayed "God, please let Caleb be my brother".  Beautiful and touching!  Of course, he doesn't always enjoy having a brother now because that's what happens with siblings.  But we thank God that these two boys will grow up with a connection they will have with no one else since they will be brothers.  

But I must tell you, there was another deciding factor in us choosing to adopt.  When I was ten years old, I was adopted.  I was not adopted into my earthly family because, if you know the Goslens of Greensboro, you know that I am genetically and socially a Goslen.  I was adopted into God's family on the day I gave my life to Christ.  The number of siblings I have is in the billions and growing daily.  I have lived in North Carolina, Kentucky, Hawaii and California.  In each of those places, I have met dear friends who are life-long friends because we shared Jesus' blood.  There is no other reason we would be friends, except for Jesus.  We are family.  Jesus had made us family.  He adopted us as His children.  John 1:12 says, "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave them the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."  Fifty-one years ago, I was born again into God's family.  I am now a child of God and Jesus even calls me His friend.  I didn't deserve it, but God is generous.  Do you remember the day you were adopted into God's family?  Do you remember who was instrumental in bringing you to that point?  Why not take a moment today and thank God for your new life in Christ?  Why not take a moment today and thank those people who were instrumental in leading you to this decision.  I am thrilled to be brought into God's family.  Aren't you?!

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Hanging Lamp and a Deceived Life

We have a wonderful volunteer who is painting the church classrooms in his spare time when he is off from work.  He is in the middle of painting our three preschool rooms and bathroom.  So this morning, he came to do a little painting.  When we opened the door to the nursery, we found the light had come out of the ceiling and was only being held on by the electrical wiring.  Upon further inspection, we found the reason it had fallen.  It seems that when the light was hung, the screws went into the dry wall of the ceiling, but not into a stud.  It was also hung with regular screws instead of toggle screws which would have allowed the screw to hold in the dry wall.  It was just a matter of time before the weight of the light would cause the light to pull out of the dry wall.  Gravity would eventually win this battle.

This seemed like a parable for many people who claim to be Christians.  They grew up in a Christian home, attended a Christian school or went to church when they were younger.  They will tell you they are Christians.  But when their lives are examined more closely, their lifestyle is more reflective of our culture than of Christ.  There is no discernable difference between John Doe down the street who has never been to church and this one who claims to be Christian.  Sometimes, the sad truth is that John Doe actually is a much more moral person.  This one who claims to be a Christian is like that light in our nursery:  He has plugged himself into something that will not last.  They have become institutional Christians, but not dedicated followers of Christ.  In other words, they are Christian in name, but sadly separated from God because they have never had a life-changing encounter with Jesus.  Jesus warned His followers in Matthew 7:21-23,"Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord,, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'  Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!"

Jesus gives us this warning:  just because we use His name doesn't mean that we are part of His Kingdom.  That would be like me running around telling everyone I am an electrician.  I could buy all the tools and learn all the jargon, but the moment I had to actually work on electricity, there's going to be trouble.  I'm not really an electrician.  I haven't had the training, the work or the mentoring the qualify me for electrical work.  I believe there are a lot of Americans who have prayed "the sinner's prayer", but have never had a saving encounter with Jesus.  They have fooled themselves by simply adding Jesus to their lives rather than giving their lives to Jesus.  When they stand before God, they will hear those words of Jesus.  You may be reading this blog and thinking that I am being very judgmental, but I would rather have many people think me judgmental while a few actually examine their eternal destiny that write something trite which will feed a lie.

The ultimate question we must answer:  Does my life reflect the life of Jesus?  This means there is a qualitative difference between our life and values when compared to the culture.  The Church in America has become weak because the Church in America wants to be accepted by a pagan culture.  This also means that many churches in America are filled with people who have fooled themselves into thinking they are saved, when they really are not.  Jesus told us this in John 3:19-2, "This is the verdict:  Light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  BUT whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that is may be seen plainly what what he has done has been through God."  Jesus says that we play games and continue to wallow in our sin, dreading to come into the light of Christ.  We don't want Jesus to ruin our good time.  We want to be able to continue to follow our passions.  We don't want Jesus to change any priorities or to make us feel uncomfortable.  The Church doesn't want anyone to feel uncomfortable, so she tries to justify sin in peoples' lives to they can be happy while they are still in the darkness.

Not the happiest blog for a Monday morning, I know.  However, I hope and pray that the words of Jesus will cause each of us (Me included) to honestly evaluate what we say we believe and what we actually do with our lives.  I would hate to think that any of my friends would be lights hanging on by screw in the dry wall rather than being hung with screws in the stud.  Come into the light of Christ, confess that sin, repent and allow Jesus to radically alter your life.  You'll be glad you did.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Living an Alternative Lifestyle

Following Jesus as a dedicated Christian is truly the most alternative lifestyle one can choose to live in America today.  Following Jesus means we are going against the flow of conventional wisdom, cultural norms and societal expectations.  We have chosen to focus on eternity rather than on the earthly.  Our focus is not on things but on obedience.  We value people more than our own position.  We died to being in control the moment we received Jesus as our Savior.  We forgive rather than holding a grudge.  We stay pure rather than following passion.  We show grace rather than run people over.  We have peace in stressful situations.  We have joy when others only find sorrow.  We look at the heart of a person rather than their actions.  We take time to listen rather than spend our energy making sure we are heard.  We don't waste time and money on those movies, TV shows, DVDs, etc which glorify sin, swearing, sex and violence.  We don't laugh at other's pain, but comfort them.  We reach out to those who have been forgotten and shunned by society.  We have kind words for those who speak abusively.  The list goes on and on, but if you are walking with Jesus, you know what I'm talking about.  Followers of Christ are radicals and rebels who have chosen an alternative lifestyle which flies in the face of the cultural values around us.

I say all that as a lead in to Sunday's sermon.  If you were at Hillcrest on Sunday, I would encourage you to go to our web site ( and listen when it comes on-line.  Also, you will want to read I Corinthians 9:24-27 if this blog is to make sense in the context of what I am about to say.  This passage has two areas of focus: (1) Care for the physical body and (2) Care for our faith.  I want to spend a moment reminding us of how our alternative lifestyle should affect our care for the physical body.

Today, 15-20 of Americans of all ages are obese.  USA Today states that by 2030, 42% of Americans will probably be obese unless there are some radical lifestyle changes.  In the church, we probably have even more obesity than in the rest of culture.  We spend a lot of energy talking about the care for our faith, but neglecting to talk about the care of our bodies.  My own thought on the reason behind this:  Most pastors aren't taking care of their bodies, so they avoid the subject.  However, this should not be the case.  Unfortunately, whenever there is a sermon or Bible study lesson on caring for the body, we make a huge mistake.  We set the wrong goals, which simply lead to guilt and unfulfilled expectations.  Some of these goals are...
-"I will lose x amount of weight"
-"I will go to the gym x amount of time per week"
-"I will exercise x amount of minutes per day"
-"I will stop drinking...sodas, coffee, energy drinks. etc."
-"I will stop eating fast food"
-"I will only eat salads until I get to x weight"
-"I will stop smoking cigarettes"

All of the above mentioned goals are fine are secondary goals, but are miserable as the primary goal.  If our primary goal is to lose twenty pounds, what happens when we gain one pound?  Or what happens when the weight doesn't come off?  When losing weight is the goal, we can develop unhealthy habits which could lead to things like bulimia or taking dangerous supplements.

Let me offer an alternative primary goal.  This goal fits hand-in-hand with living an alternative lifestyle.  I submit that this should be our primary goal in caring for the body:  Our goal is to develop a healthy lifestyle which will honor God.  With this as our goal, we are freed from the pressure of the scales, calorie counting and gym-hour counting.  This allows us to focus on our bodies allowing us to be effective in ministry, while taking away the cultural pressure of having the perfect body.  Ultimately, I am out to honor God, not a societal value, my spouse or even my own warped way of looking at my body/health. 

To accomplish this primary goal, I have found four secondary goals to be effective as an overall lifestyle, rather than just managing the minimal goals of losing weight, times at the gym, etc.
#1 - Exercise with disciple and faithfulness
Exercise is the key to a healthy lifestyle because exercise builds our most important muscle - the heart.  We make exercise a daily habit, in which we push our bodies to an elevated heart rate.  You can research the best way to do that for a person of your age, weight and physical shape.  One size doesn't fit all.  The key is to be consistent, which requires discipline.  Good thing self-control is already given to us by the Holy Spirit.

#2 - Eat Healthier
Notice, I said healthier, not healthy.  This takes into account where we are physically and allows us to transition to more healthy eating.  Some people can totally change their eating habits, but most of us would fail to cut out all fast food, snacks, junk food, etc. in the first week.  We usually can't go wrong by eating more fruits and vegetables.  Our bodies actually crave the nutrients from fruits and vegetables, but we have program our brains to eat junk food when we sit in front of the TV.  Maybe we need to start taking a lunch to work instead of eating out.  Maybe we need to eat five small meals per day rather than three large ones.  Maybe we need to stop eating food after 8:00 at night.  Maybe we need to start eating breakfast rather than grabbing a cup of coffee or sucking down an energy drink.  The goal is to develop a healthy lifestyle by honoring God.

#3 - Drink healthier
Too many of us drink coffee, sodas and energy drinks and don't drink enough water.  Water is the best drink for us.  It also helps to wash out some of the toxins we take into our bodies which are contained in the foods we eat.  Drinking more water will radically alter our bodies.  At first, it may seem like our bodies are listless and tired, but remember, we are developing a healthy lifestyle - The exercise we are doing will give us energy and focus.

#4 - Not mastered by anything
We call these things addictions.  We can be addicted to cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, sodas, fast food, laziness and a number of other unhealthy addiction.  If we cannot go six months without something, we are addicted.  We also need to beware of rationalizing our unhealthy choices.  I know people who try to convince me that alcohol is good for them by saying studies show a glass of wine per day is good for the body.  That may be true, but the benefits of that glass of wine can be found in so many other places.  Also, I rarely find anyone who actually only drinks a glass of wine per night.  We simply try to rationalize away our unhealthy choices.  We all do this.  Make a decision to not be mastered by anything but be a servant to Jesus.  Cigarettes are destructive task-masters!!  Most addictions are.

I share these thoughts with you because I want us to have bodies which will allow us to effectively minister for Christ for the duration of our lives.  So rather than focus on secondary goals, let focus on the primary goal of developing a healthy lifestyle which will honor God.  The results won't show overnight, but in a year's time, you will see God giving you more opportunities to serve because you can physically handle that opportunity.  May God bless you as you seek to follow an alternative lifestyle which is pleasing to God.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Will Appeasement Work?

In 1937, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain began a program of appeasement aimed at ending the threat of armed conflict with Germany through mutual negotiations and treaties.  Many in Europe were still struggling with the impact of the War to End All Wars and wanted to avoid conflict at any cost.  On September 30, 1938, Chamberlain returned from signing the Munich Agreement stating, "I have returned from Germany with peace in our time."  Ironically, the next day, German forces marched into Sudetenland.  No resistance was given by the British for this breaking of the Munich Agreement, hoping to avoid armed conflict by avoiding any conflict.  This proved futile because in less than a year's time, Germany invaded Poland plunging Europe into World War II.  Peace in our time by appeasement proved to be a futile pipe dream.

Many see the foreign policy of America towards Muslim aggression in the same light.  It appears that many in Washington feel if we can only give aid and negotiate that the moderate elements in those countries will rise up to end the senseless slaughter and bombings that we read about on a daily basis.  Whether you agree with this view or not, it is obvious that Muslim aggression towards those with a different world view has not lessened but increased.  Even Buddhists in Bangladesh have been attacked and homes burned down by irate Muslims.  Iran seems more and more bold about making nuclear weapons with the intent to destroy Israel.  It would appear that appeasement will not work in this setting either.

The one country that has no policy of appeasement is Israel.  They witnessed the results of appeasement as six million of them were brutally slaughtered by Nazi Germany as a result of European appeasement.  Today, if an Israeli is taken hostage, he/she knows that the country will not negotiate to gain freedom.  The government will treat the hostage situation as an act of war.  They are surrounded by countries who want to exterminate all Israelis, countries that are unafraid to state this publicly.  So survival is not based on appeasement, but on a strong defense.

Once again, I am not making a political statement but preparing to make a spiritual application from a real world situation. The Church in America today is in an appeasement mode.  By that, I mean, we want to be so accepted in our society that we have compromised the standards Christ set forth in the Bible.  We don't want to appear judgmental or bigoted, so we affirm the corruptness of the world, turning a blind eye to it.  In some cases, we have even embraced that which the Bible calls wicked, evil or sin.  The Church believes that if she just makes herself more accepting of the world, then people will flock to her doors.  We have forgotten passages like...
II Timothy 3:12-13  - "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."

John 15:18-20 - "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember, the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.'  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also."

John 16:33 - "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

II Corinthians 10:3-4  "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Many in the Church today have forgotten that we are in a war.  We have compromised on so many levels that the Church has the same level of sin as the world.  We have the same divorce rates, rates of cohabitation, substance abuse and ethical failings as the world around us.  A reformation needs to take place in the Body of Christ.  It has very little to do with the structure of the Church, the music she has or her involvement in the political process.  It has everything to do with a radical transformation of the mind and the heart.  It has to do with confession and repentance, concepts foreign to many of us.  We have a decision to make:  Appease the world and compromise our standards or honor God and face exclusion and persecution by our neighbors, political leaders and community.  This is an individual decision which will have a dramatic impact on the larger Body of Christ.  Romans 12:2 tells us, "Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  

Appeasement has rarely ever worked.  Appeasement is destroying the testimony and power of the church.  Will you simply do the right thing today and let tomorrow take care of itself?  Will you stop appeasing and start living for Jesus?  We do this, not by making some grandiose statement, but by intentionally and humbling living out our faith with a Biblical ethic.  Our culture is starving to see something authentic from the church and has mocked our efforts at appeasement.  Let's seek to honor Jesus in our thoughts, words, deeds and life choices today.

Monday, September 24, 2012


On Friday night, August 14th, the Baltimore Orioles played the Oakland A's at the Coliseum.  One of the great benefits of living in the Bay Area is the opportunity to a variety of professional sports.  In baseball, there are the A's and Giants.  The NFL has the 49ers and Raiders,  The NBA has the Golden State Warriors.  There is even professional hockey with the San Jose Sharks.  Growing up as an Orioles' fan, I have tried to see at least one game each time the O's come to Oakland.  The past few years have given Orioles' fans very little to cheer about, but this season is different.  Whenever we go to a baseball game, we arrive as soon as the doors open, hoping to get a baseball during batting practice.  But this game was different.  Thaddeus and I wanted to get some autographs.  We had all of our Orioles' baseball card, two baseballs and a sharpie.  We made a bee-line to the Orioles dugout so we could catch the players as they came onto the field.  We arrived just as Mark Reynolds signed his last few autographs before heading to batting practice.  I had his card, but couldn't get close enough to get him to sign it.  Then, the Orioles All-Star centerfielder, Adam Jones came over and started signing autographs.  We got his autograph on his baseball card this year at Spring training, so I didn't bring his card, but I sure wanted his autograph on one of the baseballs.  So I went to where he was signing, but he was moving away from me.  I went back to Thaddeus and Leah to wait.  He made his way towards us and I rolled him the ball, threw him my sharpie and got his autograph.  We were thrilled and it was great to see such an outstanding player take so much time to sign for the fans.  Thaddeus and I waited around for the rest of batting practice while Leah went back to her seat.  No other players came over to sign and the players were all coming into the dug out to get ready for the game.  We hung around just to watch these tremendous athletes.  Chris Davis, the Orioles' designated hitter, was coming in from finishing BP with his bat in hand.  He didn't look up to the dug out because you could tell he didn't want to sign, but was getting ready for the game.  As he got to the dug out, he looked up at Thaddeus and rolled his bat to us!  Wow!  We didn't just get an autograph, but we got Chris Davis' bat.  It was cracked, which is why he gave it away.  But it had the pine tar and the white stains from hitting balls were on the barrel.  The O's fans around us wanted pictures of Thaddeus holding the bat and they were all excited for him.  Later in the game, Chris Davis even hit a home run to deep center.  We had a blast at the game, even though the O's lost and we left with an autographed ball and a major leaguer's bat.

The word used for this like the ball and bat is memorabilia.  Some people collect these things so they can sell them on E-bay and make lots of money.  Memorabilia collecting today is big business and many people make their living from the collection and sale of memorabilia.  I can assure you that you will not see Adam Jones' autographed baseball nor Chris Davis' bat on E-bay.  They have become valued treasures to a young man who loves the game of baseball.  Chris Davis will never know how much joy he brought a father and son who shared a cool moment together.  We will talk about that one evening for the rest of our lives because it was a classic evening:  Great game, great friends, ball park food and a fire works show afterwards.  The memory of that evening will last a looooong time for us.

 It's easy to get caught up in a moment with a celebrity, someone you see on TV.  They seem larger than life and seem so important to us.  Yet, Jesus turns this thought process upside down in Matthew 25.  He tells the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  He affirms the sheep who have cared for the "least of these" because they have actually touched Jesus.  Jesus says that our value should be, not in those the world sees as celebrities, but in those the world sees as outcasts.  Jesus elevates the servant who serves in humility.  In the church, we often idealize those who are in the spotlight:  The one who preaches, the one who sings, the one who plays in the praise band, the one who has the incredible testimony, the one who teachers or anyone who is on the podium.  Certainly, they should set the example of humble servants for us.  But in Matthew 25, Jesus emphasizes those who help anyone who is hurting without looking for reward.  They see a need and reach out to meet a need.  They do it because they love Jesus, not because they love the accolades.

This past Sunday evening, we had our Sunday Evening Ministries Kick-Off.  Another church allowed us to use their huge, inflatable obstacle course for this event.  The kids and youth of our church often serve in our outreach events, so we wanted to give them something where they could play and enjoy.  But setting up this obstacle course is not an easy task, so I asked a few of our men if they could show up an hour and a half before the event started to get everything set up.  That small call for assistance yielded over 15 people coming early:  They set up the obstacle course, grilled hot dogs, prepared the drinks, ran errands, set up table and chairs (The reconfigured the tables and chairs when we had more people than anticipated), then put everything away and cleaned the church.  No one was complaining or slacking, just jumping in and doing what was needed.  I am spoiled as pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church because this is how they roll.  When a need arises, they willingly jump in and serve without asking anything in return.  It is infectious because others who are new to the church see the joy there is in serving and join in.  

In Revelation 4:10, the Bible tells us that the elders take off their crowns and lay them before the throne of God.  I believe this is the eternal memorabilia the saints collect while on this earth as we serve the least of these in Jesus' name.  The jewels in the crowns are these incredible collectibles that only come when we serve in humility and faith.  Adam Jones' ball will eventually decompose, as will Chris Davis' bat...but the jewels of service will be the eternal offering we lay at the feet of God Almighty when we give an account of our lives.  Would you focus this week on being a humble servant whose only desire is to minister in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus?  Focus on memorabilia that will last!