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!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Not Really A Waste of Time

This morning as I was reading "On Mission" magazine, I read something that touched my heart so deeply I began to weep.  I wept at hearing how faithfulness to God's calling will eventually reap an eternal harvest.  Allan and Helen Christopherson went to a drive-in movie in 1967 to see a movie, "The Restless Ones".  This movie was from the Billy Graham Association and at the end of the movie, a middle aged man in a suit stood up to invite people to come forward and give their lives to Jesus.  Though no one came forward, Allan gave his life to Jesus in his car.  Allan found a church, got involved, saw his two sons give their lives to Jesus and then follow God's leading to plant churches in Toronto and Chile.  Allan also helped to plant churches in Canada.  Thirty-five years later, Allan went to a leadership team meeting to host a Franklin Graham Crusade in Saskatoon.  The leaders asked if anyone would like to share how a Billy Graham Crusade had affected their lives.  Allan felt God leading him to share his story and he did.  After he finished, an elderly man slowly made his way towards Allan with tears streaming down his cheeks.  He introduced himself and said that he and some friends felt God leading them to bring the movie, "The Restless Ones" to Prince Albert and so they faithfully showed the movie over several weeks, giving an invitation to receive Jesus.  No one every came forward and each night he would go home disappointed.  He wondered if he had heard God and if God cared about that project.  He felt like it had been a waste of time.  But how he saw God's plan and how God's hand had guided him thirty-five years earlier.  The two men embraced and celebrated the faithfulness of God and the power of obedience to His leading.

This brings me to a confession:  For the past eleven years, Hillcrest Baptist Church has maintained a booth at the El Sobrante Stroll.  Each year, I excitedly see our members sharing the love of Jesus and inviting people to church and Christ.  Each year I get my hopes up of seeing an influx of people hungry for the love of Jesus they saw on display at our booth.  This year is no exception because I saw our members connecting with our community.  I saw children smile as they played the games and made the craft.  I saw parents' faces beam as they watched their children enjoying themselves, relieved that someone had something available for free rather than for a fee.  I watched as members of our congregation got outside their comfort zone to initiate meaningful conversations and touch people at their deepest level.  I saw the kids of our church serving at the booth and showing the joy of being a servant of Jesus.  I saw members sacrificing their Sundays to be in the community as a beacon of hope.  And I anticipate what will happen on Sunday because of this faithful witness.  Now comes my confession:  Most years, we rarely see many people, if any, come to our church because of our witness.  Even this morning (Monday), I had a little argument with God, reminding Him that we had done our part in reaching out to the community.  I reminded Him that He needed to do His part by bringing those people into the Kingdom and the church.  I asked Him why we keep setting up a booth and reaching out when it doesn't seem to make a difference.  I want to see people come to Christ and I desperately want to see Hillcrest grow/have an impact on eternity.  I want to know that our efforts weren't in vain.  The reality of my conversation with God may have been a "what have you done for me lately" conversation.  I'm probably not the only one who has had that conversation with God lately because we have these expectations of God.  It's kind of a foolish conversation considering He already paid a huge price(His only son) so I could have eternal life, but we periodically lose focus on that fact.  I guess I just felt like the work we do at the Stroll is a waste of time.

Then I read this article and asked God to forgive me for my short-sighted vision.  We never know the impact of one deed done in the name of Christ.  We will never know the results of our faithfulness on this side of Heaven.  We will never know how God was able to utilize that smile we gave to a family who was hurting or the way our infectious joy made someone more inquisitive about Christ.  The simplest deed done in the name of Christ has the power to change lives.  May we never forget that.  May we never forget how Stephens' faith affected Saul as he watched Stephen martyrdom.  May we never forget the impact of one man's willingness to show an evangelistic movie has had on our world.  You are making a difference by serving Christ in all that you do.  Thank you for simply living for Jesus today.  Thank you for the countless time you have tried to live out Jesus among friends who don't seem to care or want to hear about your Jesus.  Thank you for being faithful in the little things.  When we reach eternity, then and only then, will we know the impact of that Hillcrest booth set up annually at the El Sobrante Stroll.  Then and only then, will you see the incredible fruit your life has born!  May this Sip refresh you to keep on living and sharing Jesus!

Monday, September 10, 2012

See How They Serve

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to celebrate the senior adults of Hillcrest Baptist Church in conjunction with National Grandparents Day.  I was humbled as I looked at the wonderful group of seniors who stood at the front of the church.  They have an incredible wealth of wisdom and faith from which we can benefit.  It's a shame that our culture puts such a premium on youth and devalues those who are older.  Is it any wonder our country has lost her direction?  I looked at this incredible group with a deep measure of gratitude because they have set the pace for the rest of our church to follow.  They have not only served in the past, but are faithfully serving today.  Here are some of the leadership positions in which our over-65 group minister and serve:
-Sunday School Director
-Vacation Bible School Director
-Worship Committee
-Pre-School teachers
-Adult Sunday School teachers
-Women of Faith teacher
-Pre-School, children, youth and adult Sunday School substitutes
-Extended Session workers

Those are just the official positions.  They minister in so many other ways.  They are the first to know when someone is going through a struggle.  They pray.  They visit.  They call.  They write.  They take others out to eat.  They financially support the Lord's work.  They encourage discouraged servants.  They know the history of the church and all of the work that needs to be done on the facilities.  They are the first to step up when we have an opportunity to reach out.  They have signed up to work at the Stroll.  They came to our first McDonald's Kid's Craft Night.  The list goes on and on.

I would encourage you to read Joshua 23:1-16 as a follow up to Sunday's sermon.  Remember that this is at the end of Joshua's life, several years after the passage we looked at in the morning.  Joshua is an example of how we live out our faith.  We don't sit in a rocking chair or spend every day on the golf course.  We look for the next door of opportunity God will open for us.  We look for the next challenge.  We pass on our wisdom and encourage those younger than us to be faithful.  We set a legacy that will guide and direct future generations to serve the Lord.

The greatest testimony in a senior's life may actually be the attitude in which he/she faces the final years of his/her life.  People are still watching how we live out our faith.  Face an uncertain future with the strength of conviction and passion that Joshua faced his.  I am grateful for the wonderful testimony of the senior adults in my life who are still living strong for Jesus.  I pray that I will have that same courage and energy if I should reach those years.  May you be encouraged today to faithfully serve the Lord where you are right now.