Monday, July 30, 2012

The Cure for a Restless Soul

"I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for"

These words  were written and sung by the group U2 in 1987 and first appeared on their "Joshua Tree" album.  The haunting chorus paints a vivid picture of many in America...We have looked in so many places, but we still haven't found what we're looking for.

According to enrichment journal on the divorce rate in America:  The divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%.  The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%.  The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%.  We still haven't found what we're looking for.

The Office of National Statistics shows that one in six adults in America are now cohabitating - Living together without being married.  The average person who chooses to live together instead of getting married will live with six different partners (On the average) before finally getting married.  Those who do end up getting married have a 70% divorce rate.  We still haven't found what we're looking for.

The average stay for an American pastor at one pastorate is less than four years.  Only 10% of those who begin their professional career as a pastor will retire at age 65 as a pastor.  Over 80% of American churches have had conflict in the past three years.  We still haven't found what we're looking for.

The Employee Benefit Research Institutes states that the average tenure of the worker today is 5.2 years.  The average American worker will have over five different jobs or work for over five different companies during their working years.  We still haven't found what we're looking for.

The list is almost endless if you want to google the amount of change in the American lifestyle.  We try one thing, then another and then another.  It's not just the culture, this happens in the church also.  Churches jump from one program to another and one ministry to another.  Those in the pews of the American churches chase after the same things as the culture does.  

Jesus gives a profound understanding as to the cause of this restlessness in Matthew 11:29.  He says, "Take my yoke up you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls".  Americans have few roots and little perseverance because we have restless souls.  So many who are in perverted lifestyle want those lifestyles accepted because they have restless souls.  We hope from one marriage to the next, one job to the next, one church to the next because we have restless souls.  This is the inescapable truth of the modern American narrative.  We are an attention deficit society because we have restless souls.

Why do we have restless souls?  Jesus reminds His apostles in that passage that they needed to take His yoke upon them and learn from Him.  We need to align our lives up with what Jesus has in store for us.  Too many in the church want God to align Himself with what they are doing.  They want to say the "sinner's prayer" or ask Jesus into their heart, but they have no plans to allow Jesus to change their lives.  They want to remain in their lifestyle and the church is accommodating that.  You want to keep living together in sin rather than getting married?  No problem.  You want to go through one marriage after another?  No problem.  You want to live in a lifestyle that is sinful?  No problem.  Hey, if you look around long enough, you will find a church which has proof-texted the Bible and will even justify that lifestyle.  And then we wonder why the Church has no standing in our culture and why we have no Holy Spirit power.  We feed the restlessness of the soul rather than calling people to be yoked to Jesus.

I guess you could look at my life and say I have been rather restless myself.  I chose a college to attend in which I would not know anyone and would be known by no one when I first started.  Then I moved from North Carolina to Kentucky to attend seminary, once again attending a school where I would not know anyone.  Then I moved to Hawaii and California.  So you could say that I've been a little bit of a rambling man myself.  There is probably some truth to that, but I pray that these moves have been a part of me being yoked to Jesus.  I would not have chosen to go to seminary in Kentucky, but felt compelled by God to follow His leading.  Even the moves to Hawaii and California were not choices I would have pursued, but were direct leadings of the Holy Spirit.  

When I was ten years old, I made a decision to follow Jesus.  That decision began to crystalize in my youth and became more solid in college.  By the time I graduated from the hallowed halls of Wingate College in 1983, I had found that I was looking for.  I didn't need to keep looking for the latest and greatest.  I found my peace in Jesus and had trusted Him enough along the way to realize He was trustworthy for my entire journey on this life.  He has taken me on a wonderfully, wild adventure in which I have met some wonderful people.  He has given me an incredible wife who has, incredibly, stuck by me for the past eighteen years.  He has allowed me to serve in three full-time ministries, averaging over seven years at each of those ministries (My current pastorate will be eleven years on Saturday).  He has allowed me to have two sons who we are trying to raise to be yoked to Jesus.  I have found that Jesus' yoke is easy and His burden is light.  I don't need to restlessly look for the next thrill in my life.  I have found what I am looking for.

How about you?  Have you found what you are looking for in Jesus or are you still a restless soul?  Jesus is waiting for you to yoke yourself to Him and learn from Him so He can give you rest... rest for your soul.

Monday, July 23, 2012

When God closes a door...

Have you ever heard "When God closes a door, He opens a window"?  I have often heard that phrase shared by Christians when the course they charted hits snags or suddenly ends.  I would like to add my own take on that saying:  "When God closes a door, He sends a servant".  You see, I have often found that when I am at my lowest point because of circumstances, God always sends a brother/sister in Christ at just the right time.  This fellow pilgrim may not even know the impact they have made on my life, but they speak deep into my soul by their words or their actions or their attitude.  

This morning my quiet time was Ephesians 6:10.  I am working my way through the book of Ephesians in my quiet time, but this one verse was more than enough as God spoke loudly and lovingly into my life.  If you haven't looked up the passage yet, it says "Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power".  That may not resonate with you, but it hits at my very fiber.  If I am to be strong in the Lord, then I must be weak in myself.  In other words, I need to stop trusting what I can or cannot do and begin trusting God, His direction and His purposes.  That's not easy for me to do.  When there is a problem, I try to fix it.  It something isn't right, then I will jump in and try to make it right.  My first response is NOT to pray or give God time to do His thing.  My first response is to fix the problem.  Work it and make everything run smoothly.  Which means whenever their is a problem, I get intense and focused until that problem is resolved the way I think it should be resolved.  Doing this is the polar extreme of being strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  God is loving and patient enough with me to continually allow me the opportunity to learn this lesson.

It happened again this past week as Hillcrest prepared for our largest outreach of the year, the Hillcrest Community Fair.  A barbecue place down the road from the church was going to cook our 120 pounds of chicken.  This opened up more workers and the parking lot for us to have more outdoor activities.  The Fair is going to happen on Friday, so I took the chicken down to the restaurant on Thursday at 10:00, when they told us to deliver it.  No one was there.  I called the place and no one answered.  They open at 11:00, so I figured I would drop it off then.  I show up at 11:00 and no one is there and it is still closed.  As I am pondering what to do next, the owner just "happened" to arrive.  He told me that they went out of business the week before and couldn't cook our chicken.  A huge, sound proof, steel door just slammed shut.  My normal reaction would have been panic, but a young man in our church was with me helping me move everything, so I couldn't panic in front of him.  We took the chicken back to the church and I drove the young man home, which gave me time to run through every option in my mind, but also led me to prayer (Prayer should have been my first option).

When I arrived at home a few minutes later, I called one of our wonderful servants on the phone.  I told Wayne if he could cook the chicken, since he had cooked at the Fair in past years.  His response..."No".  So I waited on the phone until he stopped laughing.  His words were something along this line:  "Pastor, we got this".  Wayne said he would bring his smoker and grill.  I asked if I should bring my gas grill and he said I could if I wanted.  When God closes a door, He sends a servant.  A few minutes after that call, another member called because I had sent him a text about the barbecue place.  Tom was serving jury duty for the entire week and was going to barely make it to the Fair before it began on Friday, so there really wasn't anything he could do.  As we talked about what happened and Wayne stepping up to cook, Tom said, "Well, I guess this is reason God allowed my jury duty to end a few minutes ago".  When God closes a door, He sends a servant.  Not only did God send one servant, but he sent two at the moment I needed it the most.  Once again, this served as a vivid reminder to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Panic only kicks in when I see with my limited vision rather than trusting God's unlimited scope!

The chicken was cooked and cooked well, all 120 pounds of it.  They didn't even use my grill (See, I still couldn't just let it go and trust God's hand).  The Fair was a raging success as over 170 guests came to Hillcrest and experienced the tangible love of Jesus.  The side lesson was just for me:  Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Trust Him to provide a way and a people to prepare the chicken.  Enjoy his servants who are bold enough to say, "We got this".  Trust God working through those folks rather than what I can or cannot do.

When God closes a door, He sends a servant!
When the Hebrews couldn't leave slavery in Egypt, God sent Moses!
When the Israelites couldn't rid themselves of the Midianites, God sent Gideon!
When David headed down the wrong path of adultery, God sent Nathan!
When John Mark was not allowed to go with Paul on the second missionary journey, God sent Barnabas!

The list goes on, but is best summarized by John the Baptist in John 3:30 when he spoke of his relationship to Jesus and said "He must increase and I must decrease".  Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

So what are you trying to fix?  Maybe God has closed a door so He can send a servant your way.  Maybe He will send you to someone in need and you can be the servant to someone who has had a door closed.  The joy of this journey with Jesus is that there is always an adventure awaiting us with wonderful pilgrims to join us and encourage us.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wanna Be a Rebel?

We live in a culture which has devalued and mangled the first gift ever given to humanity:  Marriage.  In Genesis 1:18, God says, "It is not good for man to be alone": so He fashions Eve to be the wife of Adam.  The first gift ever given to humanity was the depth of relationship found only in marriage.  Yet our culture has chosen to misuse and abuse this gift by making divorce, not only common and accepted, but actually expected.  We have elevated cohabitation (Living together as boyfriend/girlfriend) as acceptable, if not more acceptable than being married.  We have evolved our view of marriage into a homosexual union.  We tax married couples at a higher rate than if they were single.  I wonder what twisted version of this wonderful gift from God will next arrive from the dark recesses of our culture.  The manner in which we have handled this gift shows our total disregard for the generosity and love of God.  We have taken that gift and degraded it into something which allows us to pursue whatever passion and lust is in our hearts.  The problem is not a political problem, nor an ethical problem, nor is it a societal problem:  The problem is a spiritual problem and the main culprit is the Church.  In the past twenty years, the Church has had the same amount of divorce as the rest of our culture (Although that has radically changed in the past eight years as divorce among those involved in Church is dramatically less than our cultural rate).  The Church rarely speaks about divorce or cohabitation and the effects of these upon marriage because we don't want to offend anyone attending our congregations or in leadership positions.  And so, the Church has ushered in the twisted form of "marriage" which is in constant flux in our culture today.

Genesis 1:24 gives us all we need to know about marriage:  "For this reason, a man will leave his father and more and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh".  Everything we need to know about marriage is found in this passage.  One man + one woman + For life = Marriage.  Who should be married is stated plainly.  The timing of sexual intimacy ("one flesh") is stated plainly.  The length of the marriage is implied.  However, for many in America today, this has become too restrictive, while others seek to use bad exegesis of the Bible to justify the alternatives listed in the first paragraph of this blog.

Now, before you think I'm going all political, please know that this has nothing to do with politics.  Politicians in America can define marriage any way they would like, but that doesn't change God's definition of this wonderful gift.  Voters in America can vote to define marriage any way they would like, but that doesn't change God's definition of this wonderful gift.  Religions can redefine marriage in any "inclusive" language they would like, but that doesn't change God's definition of this wonderful gift.  In America, the Constitution guards our freedom to actually be able to do this.  So I'm not here to bash or affirm any political point.

Here's my point:  The reality of America is that we(As a culture) have adopted  misguided and unBiblical expressions of marriage.  This is just a fact.  However, I chose to be a rebel.  I have made a decision to be radical in my life and be viewed as an obscure relic, closer link to dinosaurs than enlightened, modern humanity.  On July 16th, 1994, in front of over 400 family and friends, I made a covenant with Leah Boggs.  I told her that I would be her husband for the rest of our natural lives.  I told her she could count on me to be with her through thick and thin.  I let her know that I valued and respected her too much to live with her without the covenant of marriage.  I let her know that divorce was not an option for me.  Eighteen years later, I am even more committed to her than I was when we first got married.  I'm not in a rush to age, but I look forward to growing old with her.  My covenant with her is not decided by the evolving whims of modern man, but by an unchanging hold on the first gift God gave to my ancestors.  I have chosen to honor God and His Word more than my own desires, which makes me a bit of a rebel in America.

Lest you believe our marriage is perfect and I am the perfect husband, you might want to check with Leah.  To my own shame, I have hurt my wife.  I have said things that were mean.  I have gotten upset in the heat of the moment and have argued with her.  I have been stubborn and unwilling to listen.  I have been busy with my own things and not given her enough time.  I have been so busy with the boys that I haven't dated her as often as I should have.  The list could continue for a long time, but you get my point.  There have been numerous times along our journey of marriage when either one of us could have quit.  But here's the amazing thing:  I married a woman who has the same rebellious attitude that I have about marriage, maybe even more so.  I married a Godly woman who is seeking to honor the vows she made to God in front of over four hundred family and friends back on July 16th, 1994.  That is why we are celebrating eighteen years of marriage.

I am so glad I chose to be a rebel.  If you want to know the most fun day of my entire life, it was the day I got married.  My bachelor party was the night before our wedding, an evening of uninterrupted basketball with close friends.  I spent the night before my wedding with several of my close friends and had an adventure before even getting to the church.  My youth minister from my teen years flew out to Honolulu to perform our wedding ceremony.  My brothers, their wives, my sister, two cousins and an aunt had all flown out for this event.  My best man and another groomsman had flown from the mainland to stand by my side.  Waialae Baptist Church was filled with  many friends who had touched and continue to touch my life.  I will always remember when the rear doors opened and Leah walked into my view for the first time on that day, escorted by her Dad.  I can still see her beautiful smile and remember thinking to myself, "I have got to be the luckiest man alive".  I soaked up those moments and enjoyed that day more than words can express.  It was the most fun day of my life.  But that was just the beginning.  Eighteen years later, Leah's smile still radiates straight to my heart.  She knows me better than anyone else and has been the greatest encourager of my life.  She has listened to me grumble, held me when I was hurting and forgiven me when I have failed.  She has loved the Goslen family as if we were her own.  She has seen the good in me when I could only see the ugly.  She has prayed for me and been the one who has helped me grow the most in my faith.  She has defended me when others were thrashing me.  She has been my best friend, my lover, my business partner, my confidant, my collaborator and much, much more.  We are two rebels on an adventurous journey together for as long as God allows.

Maybe the life of a rebel isn't so bad after all.  How about you?  Feel like being a little rebellious?  Then value this gift of God and honor Him in how you handle that gift!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Framing Rather Than Finishing

If I ever go into the construction business, I want to do the framing of the building, not the finish work.  The framing consists of heavier work and pounding, but the finishing work is so tedious.  When framing a building, a few hours worth of work can yield immediate, tangible results.  In just a few hours, the construction site goes from the concrete pad/foundation, to having walls and actually looking like a building.  The finishing work consists of the minutia, like putting on baseboards, trim about doors, laying tile and a host of other time-consuming jobs.  Finishing also takes more skill than framing and every detail reflects the craftmanship of the worker.  You can work all day, doing incredible work and the building will look quite similar to the beginning of the day.  Yet, the finishing work is what will make a building look complete and elegant.  Good finishing work can make the most simple building look beautiful and inviting.

With the Hillcrest Community Fair, Vacation Bible School and the E-Waste Recycling Outreach coming up in the next few weeks, I was thinking about the contrast of framing versus finishing.  Many Christians want to be framing Christians:  They want to be involved in ministries which are high profile or they want to be on the stage or they only want to serve in one specific area and are inflexible if asked to try something different.  Many Christians want to be the face of Jesus rather than His hands and feet.  We want to to do the things which people notice and are high profile.  Yet, true service is more about finishing than framing.  For the Fair to be successful, there are those who have already spent hours planning and preparing.  There will need to be people who show up early to set up and prepare for the event.  There will need to be servants who will stay until late in the evening to take everything down and clean up after the Fair.  There will need to be finishing servants who are willing to serve in booths or ministry opportunities which are not glamorous and do not get a lot of attention.  Events like the Fair reveal the character of a church and shows whether a church is full of framers or finishers.

I am grateful to serve in a church with lots of finishers who are willing to serve where ever they are needed and who are willing to take on one ministry at the Fair and dedicate their evening to that one ministry.  Here is one example of finishing ministry:  Because of the pace of the Fair, we are not able to feed the workers, only the guests.  We ask all members to eat before they come because they will not have time to eat once they arrive at the Fair.  Rarely have we ever had anyone complain about this needed aspect of the Fair, but members consistently accept this and make ministry more important than their stomachs.

For those of you who are members of Hillcrest, the finishing work begins this Sunday as we go into our community to knock on doors and invite people to the Fair.  In the past, it takes knocking on fifteen doors to get one family to attend the Fair.  Definitely not framing work, but finishing work.  It is always hot when we go out and knock on doors and the streets around the church are all on steep hills.  You also have to bring your own lunch so we can eat right after church and then begin our knocking.  This is not a ministry for people who like the spotlight are who want to be high-profile.  Yet, if we don't knock on doors, we miss the greatest opportunity we have each year to contact our neighbors.  If we have forty people who are willing to finish by knocking on doors for an hour and a half, we can invite over 800 of our neighbors.  Jesus wants us to go out and engage our community, inviting them to a saving relationship with Him.  Will you be a part of this finishing work this coming Sunday?  If you are not able to participate or don't live in the area, would you pray that people would be interested and willing to come to the Fair?  Would you pray for us to have divine encounters?

I think Jesus was more about finishing than framing, but He got the most publicity with His framing actions.  However, His finishing work is apparent in the Apostles after his resurrection as they turned the world upside down.  Jesus did those things which were tedious, time-consuming and not yielding of immediate results because He knew that which lasts and that which is temporary.  

So whatever task you are facing today, would you approach it from that perspective?  Would you approach it from a finishing mindset rather than a framing mindset?  May this Sip from the Well refresh you to serve as a finisher!

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Look of A Servant

My son is a huge San Francisco Giants' fan and I have slowly begun to adopt this team as my own, although my first MLB love will always be the Baltimore Orioles.  We have gone to watch games at AT&T Park, which is a magnificent place to view a game.  Each game is charged with electricity as a sell out crowd roots on the home team.  There is nothing like the atmosphere of being at the game, live and in person.

However, this can be an expensive and time-consuming experience.  So on Sunday, we went to a friends' home to watch the game.  It was an exciting game as the Giants won in the bottom of the ninth inning with a two out RBI double which barely got over the right fielder's head.  Now, my friend has high definition TV, which isn't something we see often.  This means that everything we see is clearer and sharper.  I enjoy watching the fans as they show close-ups of the players to try and figure out what is happening in the stands.  On one particular shot, I could see a father in the stands carrying his young son in his arms because the son had fallen asleep.  Probably crashing from too much sugar.  Anyway, I find it fascinating to watch the fans because I enjoy watching people.  Though the game is not about the fans, without the fans the game would be much less exciting and emotional.  All you have to do is contrast an A's home game with a Giant's home game and you will see what I mean.  The fans make the baseball game a contest with emotions and momentum.  Yet, the fans are not the focus and when they try to get too involved (Running on the field or interfering with a live ball), they are escorted out of the stadium or arena.

That really made me think about Jesus' words concerning greatness.  Jesus turned the popular notion(The same notion is popular today) that being great means being the one who gets the attention and is adored by the fans.  His definition of greatness is that greatness is defined by how much you serve.  The first will actually be the one who puts others ahead of himself/herself.  Jesus defined greatness by how willing we are to minister to other rather than seek the limelight.  The greatest servants are not usually the ones standing in front on Sunday mornings, teaching, preaching, praying and singing.  The greatest servants are the ones watching the babies and toddlers in extended care so parents can focus on worship.  The greatest servants are the ones who make sure the words to the songs are printed in the bulletin or are seen on the screen at the right time.  The greatest servants are the ones in the pews who see someone who is hurting and sit beside them during the service.  Or they greet someone they do not know and begin to talk with them about important and eternal matters.  Or they sense someone is struggling and pray for them.  The true servant serves because they want to honor Jesus, not so others will honor them.  The greatest are embarrassed when someone points out their service because they didn't serve for any acclaim or pat on the back. 

I thank God that I am allowed to serve in a church where this is valued and modeled by our humble leaders.  Spiritual pride can creep into a church quickly if leaders aren't true servants of Christ.  Each Sunday as I preach, I can tell the look of a servant because so many of you have that look.  As we prepare for the Hillcrest Community Fair on July 20th and Vacation Bible School, I look forward to spending time with you  wonderful servants.  Thank you for setting an example for your pastor and others who visit Hillcrest Baptist Church.  The look of a servant!