Monday, August 27, 2012

I Can't Stop

The other day while doing research for upcoming sermons, I ran across an article by freelance writer, Patrice Lewis.  I have never heard of her, but the title of the article grabbed my attention.  The title was "We Ain't Got no Self-Control".  So I decided to read this article and part of the article stated: " What is self-control, anyway? And why is it important? Quite simply, self-control is the ability to regulate our personal impulses and reactions. It’s the realization that behavior (not moods or emotions, but behavior is often a choice.  Self-control is often referred to as self-regulation. Why is it important? The answer is eerily simple: If you can’t control yourself, someone else must control you.  We know we must control our young children to keep them from running into the street or engaging in other dangerous activities. Most parents instinctively know they must teach their children to control themselves (self-regulation) because Mom and Dad won’t always be there to keep Junior from doing something unsafe.  But while most parents teach their children self-regulation for life-and-death matters (such as not running into the street), far too many parents fall down on the job when it comes to other issues of impulse control. If I had to pick a single behavioral quality I want my kids to acquire during their growing-up years, it would be self-control. When you think about it, a lack of self-control has led to many of the problems our country is currently facing. Overspending, overeating, drinking or drug use, flash mobs, theft, lack of work ethic, abortion, STDs … the list is endless."

Daniel Webster, the former Massachusetts' Senator and Secretary of State once said, " Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future lives and crimes from society."

Edmund Burke, an Irish member of Parliament said, "Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters."

Charles C. Noble said, "First we make our habits, then our habits make us."

Benjamin Franklin stated, " “Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society."

Michel de Montaigne, a French write during the Renaissance said, "Not being able to govern events, I govern myself".

Joyce Meyer put it self-control in more human terms when she explained it this way:  "“I tell you what when I see chocolate chip cookies I can’t just eat one. I’ve got to eat a dozen. I don’t have any self control. Well, come on! You’re just talking yourself right into the pit! You do have self control, and you need to start looking at those cookies and saying, “If I want you I’ll eat you, and if I don’t I won’t!” Come on! Talk to that plateful of food! I am born again and baptized in the Holy Ghost! I have the power of the universe on the inside of me, and if I do not want to eat you I will not eat you! I mean how do you expect to defeat the devil if you can’t even defeat a chocolate chip cookie!?!?” 

The bane of American society today is our lack of self-control.  Rather than seeking to control our passions, we seek to legitimize them and normalize them.  All we have to do is look at the incredible spending-addiction of government to see this being played out.  In America, and even in California, we do not have a tax problem(i.e. a lack of tax revenue), we have a spending problem.  Each year, the average America now works 107 days of the work calendar to pay the taxes levied against them.  That's a lot of cash going to our local, state and federal governments.

But our government is such an easy and safe target.  Our culture is an easy and safe target.  Perhaps we should put a target on ourselves and the church.  Does the church have high divorce rates?  If you consider 30% a high divorce rate, then the answer is "Yes".  Does the church have problem with obesity?  Does the church waste time lazily viewing TV for hours at a time?  Does the church surf and view pornographic web sites?  Does the church have maxed out credit cards?  Does the church shop to relieve stress?  Does the church have closets full of clothes and yet still purchasing new clothes?  Does the church have addiction issues?  Does the church have consistent time in God's Word every day?  Does the church tell others God's plan of salvation?  Does the church...You can fill in the blank.  

The best quotes are not those which come from world leaders, but from God's very own mouth.  II Timothy 1:7 says, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love and self-discipline".

In Galatians 5:22-23, God's Word says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is...self-control."  

This is a reminder that God's Spirit strengthens us to say "Yes" to those things which are beneficial and "No" to those things which are destructive.  We don't have to reach down deep and suck it up.  We simply have to listen and heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of asking for more "things", we need to ask God to give us self-control.  Take some time to honestly view your life, examining areas where you need self-control.  Take some time to confess and then invite God to do what only He can do...Give us self-control!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Spiking Gas Prices

On August 6, 2012, a fire ripped through the Chevron refinery in Richmond.  The fire would burn for several hours until the authorities were able to get the fire under control.  Thankfully, no one was killed and there was few injuries.  However, those who live in Richmond will be feeling the physical effects of this fire for years to come because of the toxins released in the air around the neighborhoods.  This is event has already begun to cause major tremors in the Richmond community and the way Chevron has handled this refinery.  However, my focus is on a much smaller scale.  The morning after the fire, I rode my bike to work.  As I rode by the four gas stations I pass on my way, all but one of them had raised their gas prices by over twenty cents per gallon.  The other station wasn't opened when I rode by, but when I rode home, their price had also been raised by over twenty cents.  It is now August 20th and gas prices in the Bay Area have gone up over 40 cents per gallon and close to 60 cents in many places.  These high prices are being blamed on the lack of gasoline available since this fire.  However, I was stunned to see how quickly these local dealers were willing to raise their prices after this calamity.  I doubt if any of those gas stations had received shipments of gas during the night which were more expensive to produce.  The pumps contained the same gas which they had in them eight hours earlier (Before the fire), yet the price had risen twenty cents.  I have often heard "big oil" blamed for the high prices, but these prices were high because the owners of those stations wanted to make a little money while they could.  Hey, if ALL of the stations are going to do it, why not make an extra buck for yourself also.  You can read about the prices going up by reading the following article.

For the average consumer in the Bay Area, this is one more obstacle to overcome in just trying to survive.  Gas prices had finally fallen to about $3.65 a gallon when this happened.  Of course, I never have understood why we can have these refineries in our back yard and still have some of the highest gas prices in the country (But that is a rant best saved for another day).  I digress, so let me get back on track.  There is a heart condition of humanity that is evident on the price boards at gas stations:  People are, by nature, greedy.  We want to get what we can get for ourselves.  Often times, it doesn't matter who gets hurt or how we get it.  We just want to make sure we get ours, especially if others are getting some.  

Melky Cabrera was having a career year with the San Francisco Giants.  He was hitting almost 100 points above his batting average, was the catalyst to the Giants being in first place in the National League West and the MVP of the All-star game.  All of that came crashing down last week when he has caught taking steroids to improve his performance.  You see, he is in the final year of his contract (Which is only paying him $6 million this year) and could sign as a free agent with any team after this year.  So he decided to juice up and make a huge pay day.  Now, he is banned for fifty games and every general manager in baseball knows that he can't really be that productive.  He will sign with a team, but he will carry this mark with him for the rest of his career.  Since when did $6 million dollars per year to play a kids' game not be enough?  He saw everyone else getting theirs and so he decided to get some for himself.  Another two months and he would have had a guaranteed contract which would pay him close to $60 million.  Now, he will be fortunate to stay in baseball after his suspension.

The problem:  Greed.  It's been a problem every Adam and Eve were told they couldn't eat the fruit from the tree of good and evil.  They wanted  to get theirs.  Cain had the same problem when he saw Abel getting commended by God for his offering.  David had the same problem when he saw Uriah's wife bathing.  Judas had the same problem when he saw he could make some serious cash off Jesus.  Ananias and Sapphire had the same problem when they saw others selling land and making an offering to the Lord.  Simon the sorcerer saw the power of God working through Peter and John.  The list in the Bible is almost endless.

We have the same problem:  Greed.  We see someone and want what they want.  We see others utilizing shady methods to get some, so we want to get our share.  We see others cut corners and figure we might as well do the same.  We don't think about or even care about those we hurt.  We just want to get some for ourselves since everyone else is doing it.  In the heat of the moment, our base instincts kick in and we join the looting.  We take what we know isn't ours.  We reach for the proverbial second helping when the first was plenty.  

Yet as followers of Christ, we have two big issues with greed:  (1)  We know that greed leads to destruction of our integrity and what we gained in our greed.  We may lose our reputation, family and income.  In the first chapter of Proverbs, this book of practical faith begins in verse 19 with a reminder about greed.  "Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gains;  it takes away the lives of those who get it."  The temptation will always be there to to get some for ourselves, but we know that this will only yield pain in the future.  (2)  We aspire to a higher calling since we follow Jesus.  According to Philippians 2, we are to be "blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe".  If this generation sees us operating on the same plane with the same motivations they have, we will have no testimony.  A greedy world is looking for those who have contentment.  Our world of chaos is not looking for religion, they are looking for those who have peace and serenity in the midst of craziness.  This only comes from total surrender.  We surrender having worldly things for following Jesus.  We surrender what we think is important for the priorities of Jesus.  We become givers instead of takers.  We become generous instead of being greedy.  We allow the power of God to transform us so that we don't follow the pursuits of the crowd.  We humble ourselves before God and allow His Holy Spirit to change our minds so that we focus on things above, not on things of this earth.

So how are you doing with greed?  It's a part of our human nature and will never be removed from our lives totally.  However, the Holy Spirit will give us fruit which overcomes this nature.  May you drink from the cup of sacrifice and service alongside Jesus which never runs dry.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Never Surf Alone

I first learned to surf in 1986 while living on Oahu.  I had always wanted to learn how to surf and so one of the seniors at Hawaii Baptist Academy took me under his wing and taught me how to surf.  Some of the most relaxing and refreshing moments have been spent on the waves of the 50th state (No, I don't surf in Cali because the water is way too cold for me).  But there is an axiom which is of great benefit to anyone surfing:  Never surf alone.  Most of the time, this is for safety reasons.  There have been times when a friend has had to pull me out of a perilous situation because the waves broke my board and I could have drowned or drifted off to sea.  There have been times when we have been surfing and sharks have shown up, so we were able to stay safe by paddling in together.  There have been times when we were surfing and a swell came in, bumping the height of the waves up dramatically.  We needed each other to give us the confidence to take off on those mammoth waves and make it to shore safely.  But most of the time you want a friend with you when you are surfing to multiply the pleasure.  I remember my first big barrel at Ala Moana Bowls as my friend was paddling out of the shoulder of that wave watching me lock in deep.  I remember surfing on the North Shore with a friend when a whale began to breach just a few hundred yards from us.  I remember being out in the line-up with a friends at Threes in Waikiki and seeing a pod of dolphins swim right between us, close enough for us to touch them.  Most of the time "surfing" is actually spent sitting on the board in the line-up waiting for waves.  Having a good friend gives time for good conversation and helps those lulls in the waves pass more quickly.

I was thinking about that this morning on my bike ride to work as I reflected on yesterday's sermon about accountability.  It seems to me that most followers of Christ avoid accountability because it sounds like someone is always going to be on your case.  Someone is going to be checking up on you to make sure you are not slipping up and sliding into sin.  Someone is hounding you to point you in the right direction when you are having struggles or confusion.  In other words, we think accountability is having someone to rescue us when we wipe out or challenge us when we don't charge the big waves.  To a certain extent, this is true.  We all need someone who will be there as a human voice speaking God's Word into our lives.  Read Philippians 2:19-30 and you will see that even the Apostle Paul had Timothy and Epaphroditus with him to assist him and help him in his time of need.  So if Paul needed a brother in Christ to keep him in check, don't you think we need that also?

However, most of our journey with Christ is not spent with some great temptation or struggle.  Most of our journey is spent seeking to live for Him in the mundane, everyday moments of living.  There is no calamity or heart break, just the ups and downs in the typical day.  It's kind of like the surfer waiting for a wave during a lull.  Having a brother/sister in Christ who is intimate with our lives allows the journey to be more joyful and have someone who celebrate those small successes.  It's nice to have someone hooting encouragement as we try something new for us, like teaching a Sunday School class, witnessing at work or praying aloud for the first time.  That's why a true follower of Christ does not detach Himself from the body of Christ, even if there have been some issues.  One day, we want someone to share our overflowing joy with when our grandchild did something marvelous and the next day, we need to listen to a brother/sister share their overflowing joy when their grandchild has done something marvelous.  This multiplies the joy when we have someone involved in our journey.

To do this means we must take a risk.  We must open ourselves up honestly to someone and let them see that we struggle.  They need to know that we don't have it all together, even though we try to project that every Sunday morning.  They need to know we are vulnerable, weak and struggling, but desperately want to honor Jesus in our total being.  This is risky because they may let us down.  They may not really show the caring and compassion that we need.  They may be just as human and fallible as we are.  Yet to never risk is to miss out on the truth of Christian fellowship.

So this week, make sure to call your prayer partner you met with yesterday in church.  If you weren't at Hillcrest on Sunday, ask God to put someone on your heart with whom you can have contact with three times this week.  Remember to share:  What has God revealed to you lately?  What is one struggle you are facing?  How can I pray for you?  Do that for the next two weeks and see if this doesn't make your journey even more enjoyable.  Just as the surfer should never surf alone, the Christian should never walk alone.    So perhaps this Sip from the Well will allow you to refresh a fellow pilgrim on his/her journey with Christ.

Monday, August 6, 2012


There appears to be a tremendous lack of civility in our country today, especially as the election heats up.  Abusive words (Bigot, hypocrite, hater, libetard, democrap, whacko, right wing nut job and many more)  are tossed out at any moment with no thought given to the depth of the crassness.  In America, we have forgotten how to disagree with sensibility and respect.  We are so quick to demonize anyone who has a view opposing ours.  We want to label and call them names rather than listening and reasoning with them.  We have lost the ability to disagree in a respectful manner which allows for resolution or, at least, peace.  Before you think I am speaking about the group which opposes your particular view, I am speaking to your group.  Rarely do we see meaningful, thoughtful dialogue about any issue.  The past few years has ushered in a new wave of vitriol and antagonism which has caused deep fissures in our country.

We often forget that in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, there were major disagreements.   The disagreements were over how the legislatures would be chosen. They decided the new congress would have 2 houses, a Senate in which all states would be equally represented by 2 senators, and a lower House of Representatives in which the number of delegates would be apportioned based on state population. State legislatures would appoint Senators every six years, while the people would elect representatives to the House every two years. The new congress had all the powers it had under the Articles of Confederation but also had the power to levy taxes.  They disagreed over the issue of States rights, the power of the federal government, slavery and host of other issues.  However, their disagreements allowed them to develop what is regarded by many historians as the greatest document in human history - The American Constitution.  Did the delegates disagree?  Yes.  Did they have major obstacles?  Yes.  Did one side get their way?  No.  Did they compromise and develop a guiding document for the United States of America?  Yes.  The disagreed, but were still able to reconcile those disagreements in compromise.  Think what America would be like if there were no document unifying the states.  Each state would be her own country with her own laws and government.  The UNITED States would have ended before she even started.  Perhaps the quote by Tomas Jefferson below puts this into perspective.

This level of antagonism and demonizing of people was so evident this past week.  Last Wednesday, my family and I chose to eat at the nearest Chick-Fil-A, which is about 30 minutes away.  We arrived at 3:15, finally got to place an order by 4:00 and had our food arrive by 4:30.  Why did it take so long?  The place was packed with several hundred people.  The owner told me that over 3,000 people had come to eat at the restaurant and they actually ran out of food at 4:30 and had to send people away.  Some people came because they wanted to support freedom of speech.   Some came to support Biblical marriage.  Some came to support the right of a company's owner to speak his mind.  Some came because they like the food.  Yet in the midst of this long wait, no one was impatient or upset about the wait.  It was actually rather festive.  I have never been in a crowded restaurant with that kind of atmosphere.  Of over 3,000 people who came to the restaurant that day, only one protested.  She was quoted as saying that in the long line of people, all she could see were people who supported discrimination, hatred and bigotry.  That's kind of a broad, sweeping statement to make about 3,000 people whom you have never taken the time to meet of get to know.  Here is a link to the news report if you want to watch it.  Oh, you can also see my family and I leave the restaurant after eating at the 16 second mark.  So I guess we are stars.

Okay, many of you may get angry that I even mentioned Chick-Fil-A because you feel they are a company full of bigotry and hatred.  The point of this Sip is not to entice anger or get a rise out of anyone.  I simply want to point out the fact that Americans have lost the ability to disagree with respect.  So, let's try this.  On Saturday, my wife and I went to Oakland to support the passage of Prop 35.  Here in California, the penalty for pimping/sexually exploiting women is much less than for dealing drugs.  So there is an epidemic of men taking your women, girls and boys and forcing them to work the streets in prostitution.  Prop 35 will raise the penalties for this crime and make it easier to prosecute and make the penalty more fitting of the crime.  We met with over 300 others and marched through Oakland, down one of the streets where this pimping take place to raise awareness and support for the passage of Prop 35.  Most of the reception was positive, but there were those in the shadows who were agitated and angry.  Marchers had some wonderful discussions with people on the streets, but there was a palpable spiritual tension in the air.  My wife and I decided to let people know what we support rather than spending our energy boycotting what we don't support or trying to tell people how wrong they are.  We just don't feel that is productive in our world today.  Too many people in America want to tell you what they are against, but can never tell you what they actually affirm.  We affirm the right of women and girls to live in freedom and without fear of being taken hostage to the sex trade.

On March 21, 2011, Brian Stow was attending a baseball game in Los Angeles as his beloved San Francisco Giants played the LA Dodgers.  After the game, he was beaten, suffering a brain injury.  Why did this attack take place?  Because Brian Stow had the audacity to cheer for his team at the opponents' ball park.  This is another example of how out-of-control our conversations have become.  Brian Stow is a husband and father, and this attack has irreparably affected his life and the life of his family...all over a baseball game.  As much as my son and I love to watch the Giants play, we would never to go LA to watch the Giants play because of this attack.

What does this have to do with faith in Christ and Hillcrest Baptist Church?   Simply this:  Though our world has no room for disagreements, in the church this should not be.  We can disagree without being disagreeable.  We can have meaningful dialogue about things in which we disagree.  The church is not a homogenous group where everyone thinks the same and does the same.  The world may define us that way, but they don't see the incredible diversity in our church.  We have a variety of ages, races, socio-economic levers, education levels, etc.  The only way we can have unity is if we are truly filled with the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit allows us to accomplish Ephesians 4:2, which says "Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in agape."  Great words to live by.  It would be nice if our world would do the same, but since they aren't saved and don't have the Holy Spirit to guide them, this is just a pipe dream.  However, in the Church, we get to experience this every day.  We cannot change the temperature of dialogue in America, but we can certainly impact lives on Sunday mornings.  So have you been patient with your fellow brother or sister in Christ?  Have you been bearing with them, even when they let you down?  Have you stood beside them when they fell or struggled?  Our greatest testimony in the world today is the respect and agape love we share with each other.  People are longing for and looking for that type of real and authentic love.  May this Sip give you the strength to call someone, write someone or e-mail someone to encourage them in their walk of faith.  May you be given a reserve of patience and energy to love those who test your patience.  May we truly love others the way Christ has loved us!