Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Keeping It Simple

This morning, after working out, I was talking with a friend in the locker room of 24 Hour Fitness.  He was telling me about how things were just in a funk for him and he didn't know where to turn.  He is not a follower of Jesus, so I tried to share a little about how I trust the Lord in those situations.  He is overwhelmed by what is happening in his home and how stressed his wife is during this time of the season.  He is also experiencing a lot of pressure from family members for financial help, laying the guilt on because of the Christmas season.  At the end of our brief conversation, I told him I would be praying for him, although he wasn't sure how to react to that.

As I reflected on this discussion, I began to wonder how many other people are having deep pain during the Advent season.  It seems that people have so many expectations about this time of the year, plus they are racing at a breakneck pace with no time to breathe or rest.  Unfortunately, the church often adds to the stress and anxiety of this time.  We have to have our big Christmas outreach of a musical or a Christmas Eve service or some other type of event.  This requires people to put in extra time at the church preparing for this large event.  Then we have to attend our Sunday School party or this church gathering.  So the church has simply added to this rather than allowed people to live more peacefully.

Our culture puts so much pressure on us during this time of the year.  Economically, we are strained because we HAVE to buy presents for everyone and even our government encourages us to stimulate the economy in this way.  We are strained with our time because we have to get cards written and mailed, packages shipped, goodies baked, parties attended, trips to make, shopping to do.  Socially, we are strained because we are supposed to have Normal Rockwell Christmas gatherings and remember to send cards to everyone who has sent us cards.    Emotionally, we are strained because we don't rest as much and we feel so much pressure to meet so many expectations.

Here is a fact about Christmas in America:  It is a pagan holiday.  Let's not try to fool ourselves any longer.  The church an try to keep Christ in Christmas, but our culture has moved a far distance from any significant thoughts about Jesus and salvation.  Many places have outlawed setting up nativity scenes and it is becoming a social faux pau to say "Merry Christmas".   Even those of us in the church will spend way more money on presents for family than we will tithe to our local church this month.  We will exhaust ourselves trying to adhere to pagan rituals than we ever exhaust ourselves in witnessing or serving in the church.  I'm not preaching about this, I'm just stating a fact.  I am ready to let the pagans have Christmas and celebrate the birth of Christ in August, when He was probably born.  This way, we can truly appreciate the birth of Jesus and the coming of the Messiah without competing voices all around us.

So rather than waste energy ranting about the lack of Jesus in this holiday, I propose that we set an example to our culture.  Keep things simple.  Set a budget that is financial, time, social and emotional.  Set some boundaries and keep your celebration simple.  Don't buy into the lies which our culture shoves down out throats at this time.  No matter what we see and hear on commercials, just relax and enjoy spending time with our family.  Actually say "No" to some invitations and refuse to be drawn into the stress.  Take a step back and evaluate what you will invest this year in a holiday that, often times, falls far short of our expectations.  Maybe that is another reason why I enjoy taking my family to North Carolina for Christmas.  Once we get on that plane, we can relax and decide to see who we want to see.  We don't have lots of parties to attend and very little pressure, so Christmas becomes a relaxing time for me.  I guess that's why I enjoy the nativity account so much.  Here we have an example of a simple family welcoming their child into the world.  The chaos around them did not diminish the peace they had in following God's will.  Mary and Joseph serve as examples of servants who kept life in the right perspective.  Luke 2:19 says, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."  She didn't stress or panic.  She treasured those moments and was caught up in the midst of that moment, not focusing on what may happen a week, month or year or decade later.

So my prayer for you is that you will have a simple, relaxed and blessed Advent.  May God give you the wisdom to say "No" more often and say "Yes" to slowing down.  May the Christ of Christmas guide you during the most pagan seasons of our calendar.  May the touch of the Savior bring peace in the midst of chaos and grace in the midst of pain.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent Generosity

Psalm 37:21 - The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously
Psalm 112:5 - Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.
Proverbs 11:25  - A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
Proverbs 22:9  -  The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.
II Corinthians 9:6  -  Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
I Timothy 6:18  -  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

In these and other verses, God reminds us to be generous with the resources He has given us.  As followers of Christ, we are simply stewards of what God has entrusted to our care.  He is the owner and master.  We are simply the caretakers of all that He owns.

With that thought in mind, I want to thank the members of Hillcrest Baptist Church for being generous in the past year.  Over and over again, you have stepped up to help those in need or given to special needs in the church.  This month, we collect the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, with the monies collected going to assist missionaries in over 120 countries.  We met several of those missionaries during our On Mission Celebration back in October.  This past Sunday, we started this offering with our luncheon and auction, which raised almost $900.  You were generous in your bidding, which assists our missionaries.  What really struck me was how generous you were with the gifts you gave for the auction.  There were gifts which were highly valuable, not just junk pulled off the shelf which you wanted to get out of your closet.  I also saw people being generous by giving away the presents you won in the auction, but knowing someone else would like to have it.  You were also generous in helping set up and clean up the fellowship hall so we could have this event.  Thank you for being generous as a church and as followers of Christ.  I am humbled and proud to be the pastor of such a giving group of servant.


During the Advent season, we are really told by the media to be selfish.  I read that of the people who braved Black Friday sales this year, over 70% were actually shopping for themselves, not someone else.  The commercials on TV encourage us to overextend ourselves by giving possessions, which we really can't afford to give.  We are told that this perfect gift will make someone's Christmas meaningful.  Our kids are told they need just the right toy or game for their Christmas to be fulfilling.  Of course, we all know that these things will leave us empty and the toys will break.  So when I speak of generosity, I am not speaking about shopping for Christmas presents.


Our generosity during this season should extend to giving of ourselves or giving that which is eternal.  Gift to help International missionaries share the Gospel will reap an eternal harvest.  Taking time to help someone who is in need will cost us time and energy, perhaps our two most valuable commodities during the month of December.  Making a gift with our own hands is another way of showing someone that we love them enough to invest time in them.  Spending time with our family instead of rushing around to a variety of parties and gatherings is a way to be generous to those we love the most.  Giving blood is a way to give the gift of life to someone we will never meet.  This Advent season, look for eternal ways to be generous, to touch others in Jesus' name.

II Corinthians 5:21 reminds us that "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.".  The most generous gift ever given was the gift of eternal life through Jesus' death and resurrection.  God made a decision to allow His only son to live among us.  Jesus was born as a vulnerable and helpless baby.  He was raised by faulty parents, just like us.  He ministered for three years and then was put to death.  But on the third day, He walked out of the tomb and now sits at the right hand of the Father.  John 1:12 reminds us that if we simply believe and receive Jesus, we will be given eternal life:  The best gift of all.  We are generous, not to earn Heaven, but in response to being given Heaven.  We don't deserve such a gift, but we have a generous God.  So remember to follow God's example this Advent Season.  Be people of generosity, not of stinginess.  Give, not to receive a blessing, but because you have already received so much.

Monday, December 2, 2013

An Ending for the Ages

I remember watching a football game between Boston College and Miami played on November 23, 1984.  I had settled down to watch this game, knowing that the vaunted Hurricanes would beat up on Boston College.  The game ended up being closer than anyone expected and with six second left BC trailed 45-41.  The quarterback, Doug Flutie took the snap and rolled to his right to get away from pressure and let the ball fly.  It came down above a few Miami defenders and landed in the arms of Gerald Phelan, Flutie's roommate.  The BC players went crazy and the Orange Bowl got quiet.  In my lifetime, this was one of the most remarkable endings I had ever seen in a college football game.  The juggernaut Miami Hurricanes had been beaten by the lowly Boston College Eagles.  It was an incredible ending which continues to be talked about and shown on TV.

Fast forward to Saturday evening, November 30th.  We sat down to watch the final quarter of the Alabama-Auburn football game.  Alabama was ranked #1 in the nation and undefeated.  They were trying to win their third national championship in a row, but had to beat their arch-rivals to play for the SEC championship and then the national championship.  With time winding down and the game tied, Alabama moved into Auburn territory.  A run to the sidelined seemed to end the game, sending the game into overtime.  The Alabama coaches wanted the officials to use replay to see if there was any time left on the clock.  Auburn fans were upset because they wanted the game to go into overtime.  The officials said there was one second on the clock, enough for Alabama to attempt a 57 yard field goal.  The kicker sent the ball towards the uprights as time expired.  The kick was accurate, just not long enough and fell short.  Waiting in the end zone was an Auburn player, Chris Davis.  He caught the ball and began to run towards his goal line, 109 yards away.  Unbelievably, he kept going and ended up scoring the winning touchdown, destroying Alabama's hopes of another National Championship.  It was an incredible ending.  As we watched the final play unfold, my son and and were caught up in the moment.  Though we had no rooting interest in either team, we were screaming and yelling because the ending was so incredible.  This ending will be talked about and shown on TV for generations to come.  In Alabama, this will be one of the most famous plays ever.  Chris Davis will always be remembered for his winning score.  Even now, I am amazed by the incredible way this game ended.

Two thousand years ago, a child was born in Bethlehem.  That child grew up and began to minister in public.  He healed the sick, the blame, the lame and the lepers.  He brought hope and grace to those who were outcasts.  He showed incredible love to those who had been hated and even those who hated Him.  He raised the dead.  Wherever He went, people wanted to touch Him and be with Him.  But the religious leaders had other ideas.  They wanted Him dead.  So they had Him arrested, put on trials and then put to death.  In a moment, His life was snuffed out and His followers were bewildered.  How had this gone so horribly wrong?  These followers had invested three years into this man.  They knew He was the Messiah and would free Israel from Roman hands.  Now He was dead and gone.  A terrible ending to something that started out so promising.  Death had been victorious and now they had no purpose, no mission, no energy.  They only had fear because they were now being hunted.  

BUT on the third day, the one who was beaten beyond recognition, who was crucified on the cross and who was placed in a a borrowed tomb would have an ending for the ages.  In that one moment when the forces of evil were celebrating a victory, they were given a resounding defeat.  Jesus, the Messiah, walked out of the grave, alive and free from the shackles of death.  The King of the Jews was alive with a a message of grace, forgiveness and salvation.  The most improbably comeback of all time.  This was the greatest ending of any human event.  Jesus is alive.

As we enter Advent season (Which is also college bowl season and the NFL season), please remember this ending.  Please remember that the child became a man and died for your sins.  Please remember that He conquered sin, death, Satan and Hell.  Don't let Satan make a comeback by focusing your mind of presents, shopping deals, parties, trees and lights.  The forces of darkness have been beaten but they haven't given up.  Celebrate the eternal life you have because of the power of Jesus' resurrection.  Jesus told us in John 11:25, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies."  Let this reminder guide you during this Advent season.

Monday, November 25, 2013

When Am I Thankful?

It is always easier to thank God when...
  We have enough money in the bank and the bills are all paid.
  Our kids are listening and obeying.
  We just received a raise at work or congratulations from our boss on a job well done.
  Our marriage is clicking and we are feeling close to our spouse.
  Algebra makes sense and we are cruising with a strong A.
  Our health is good and we sleep well at night.
  Our car is running fine and looking sharp.
  Our weight is under control and getting up to exercise is fun.
  The doctor gives us a clean bill of health.
  We get an unexpected influx of cash.

It takes very little work to thank God for these kinds of things.  As a matter of fact, we are much quicker to thank God in these times.  

It's not so easy to thank God when...
  We have too much month left for the money we have.
  We are unable to make house payments because of a balloon payment in our loan.
  The car won't start and the bill to fix it is over $1,000.
  Our spouse doesn't seem to listen to us and we are disagreeing.
  Our kids don't do what we ask, whine and complain about everything.
  We can't seem to fall asleep at night and have gotten just a few hours of sleep each night.
  We put on pounds because our hectic lifestyle leads us to eat too much junk food.
  The doctors says we may have a tumor.
  Our tooth cracks and we have to get it repaired.
  We lose our job because of cutbacks.
  We lose our medical insurance because of the laws passed by our government.

Yet, this is when we need to thank God the most.  James 1 reminds us to.."Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish it work so you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  This kind of mindset turns Thanksgiving upside down.  We thank God when things aren't going the way we want them to go.  Difficult circumstances do not mean God has abandoned us.  They simply mean that God has a plan which is different and BETTER than ours.  So take time this week to thank God for the trials, pains and struggles in your life rather than the just the joys.

Monday, November 18, 2013

It's All About Giving

I am privilege to serve a church with some of the craziest followers of Christ you will ever meet.  For example, just a few minutes ago I am sitting in my office working.  Without even a knock, my office door flies open and standing there is Tom Bishop.  Tom throws an orange to me, says "It's all about giving" and then leaves.  Bam!  Just like that.  For those of you who don't know, I eat an orange every morning for breakfast, so Tom was taking care of me.  How many times have you ever been gotten by a hit-and-run orange tosser?  This was a first for me, but having crazy things happen like this as pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church is now out of the norm.  What a great way for my week to get started.  How did your Monday start?

I took that comment from Tom as a sign from God and began to think about what he said.  "It's all about giving:".  Tom may have been referencing the sermon yesterday because I reminded the church that coming to church was not about them.  We don't come to church for what we get out of it.  We come to church to give to God and minister to each other.  The church in America has become way too self-centered.  We need to have the right music, the right technology, the right lighting, the right teaching and all the programs to meet all of our needs.  If we don't find these things at our church, we just go to the next "big thing" church.  So churches today feel the pressure to have bands, technology and ministry which will attract and keep their "clients", oops, I mean parishioners.  Too many go to church for what they get out of it rather than what they give to God and to others.  So Tom was reminding me of my own message, which is a good message for me.  Serving the Lord is not about what's in it for me, but what's in it for God's Kingdom.

I thought about things going on at Hillcrest when Tom tossed me the orange.  "It's all about giving".  I think about the way our church gives to each other.  Here's just one example:  One of our members is going through chemotherapy for cancer.  Her daughter posted a message of Facebook asking if anyone had a wheel chair she could use for her Mom.  One of the members in our church didn't even wait to see what happened.  They just brought a wheel chair with them on Sunday and gave it to the daughter.  It's all about giving.  That's just one example of the way the Hillcrest family gives to each other.  It just makes me glad to be involved in a church trying to serve the Lord and each other.  I often wonder how people without a church family make it through the difficult times in life.  If you don't have a church family, make sure to find one.  If you are only going to church but have not developed deep relationships, get involved in a small group where you can minister to others.  It's all about giving.

I also thought about the fifty-one shoe boxes that are packed and ready to be sent all over the world through Operation Christmas Child.  We have a table on which these boxes are stacked and will be delivered next Sunday.  These boxes are going to children we will never meet in this world.  But each box is a living witness to the child and his/her family who receives the shoe box.  It's all about giving.  If you haven't put together a shoe box, it isn't too late yet.  If your church is not collecting shoe boxes, you can always go on-line and find a place to deliver your shoe box.  I also thought about the 70+ boxes of pie crusts sitting on the altar at the front of the sanctuary.  Every year, our church donates these pie crust boxes to the Telegraph Center in Oakland for their Thanksgiving food distribution.  This year, I forgot to even contact the Telegraph Center until a member of the church asked me if we were collecting pie crust boxes again.  So once again, we will help needy families in our community have a memorable Thanksgiving meal.  It's all about giving. 


I John 4:10 reminds us, "This is love:not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."  As a follower of Christ, it's all about giving because we have already received much more than we deserve.  So today, rather than waiting on someone to help you out, how about giving to someone else?  Because, it really is all about giving.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mental Meanderings from a Mind on Vacation

In the Fall of 1978, I made one of the greatest life changing decisions of my life.  It was my senior year in high school and we were all trying to determine where we would go to college.  I had four criteria for the institute of higher learning I would attend:  #1 - It could not under ANY circumstances be Appalachian State University.  My two brothers and one cousin were already attending ASU and I had been called Ben and Clif enough for an entire life time.  I wanted my own identity apart from my brothers.  #2 - It had to be small.  I knew that if I went to a large college, I would be tempted to slack off and not invest myself into the learning process.  I needed a place where there was academic accountability.  #3 - It had to be a Christian school - I wanted to have my faith reinforced and learn about life through the eyes of a Christian worldview.  #4 - It had to be close enough to home that I could get back home easily, but far enough away that home would not be tempted to come to me.  I don't know how I found out about Wingate College because no one in my family nor anyone in my sphere of influence had ever heard of Wingate.  But it met all four of my criteria:  It was ASU, it had only 1,500 total students, it was a Southern Baptist College and it was a little more than two hours from home.  So in November, I decided to use one of my three "college tour" days to miss school and check out this place.  So I made the trek to the thriving metropolis of Wingate and drove into the main entrance.  By the time I drove one block on campus, I knew that I would be attending Wingate if I got accepted.  I fell in the love with the place.  It was all I was looking for and even more.  This was one of the smartest decisions I had ever made in my life.  It was evident that God was guiding me in this process and I was thrilled to follow Him to Wingate.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plants to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."  Never has this been more true than in the fall of 1978.  My decision was made and before mid-December of my Senior year in high school, I had been accepted to Wingate and was making plans for my freshman year.  Most of us know what God wants us to do with our lives.  We simply get scared and step back from it, asking God for more confirmation, when we know in our soul what God wants.  Don't be afraid to step out in faith and go where God is leading you today.  Oh, by the way, I never did use those other two "college days" because I felt this would be a slap in God's face because I already knew His plans for me.

So in August of 1979, I loaded up my AMC Gremlin and headed for Wingate.  The only person I knew was my room mate, who I had met earlier that Summer.  I was starting out fresh and new in a place where I knew no one and had very little support.  As I turned down highway 601 from I-85, I began to wonder what in the world was I doing.  But Wingate was all I had hoped for and even more.  I met people right and left.  Everyone was friendly and welcoming with friendships easy to make.  Nicknames like Smitty, Pud, Hank, King Lear, JW and M & M came to symbolize a  depth of friendship with each other.  This past weekend, I spent some time with many of those wonderful friends.  After 34 years since our freshman year, I was struck by the nature that Wingate had instilled in us.  Wingate made a huge impact on my life, but not because it wasn't ASU, nor its size, nor its Christian commitment and not even its distance from home.  It had an impact on my life because of the people.  These friends cared about me and I was blessed to have so many people involved in my life.  At the Homecoming breakfast, the first person I saw that I knew was Mark Horne.  He was from the huge metropolis of Spindale and we struck up a friendship immediately our freshman year.  When Mark saw me, we did not hug, we embraced.  It was the hug and two friends who had shared common experiences and were thrilled to be reconnecting.  It was like that all day long.  The capper was gathering with classmates for dinner.  I was struck by the conversation:  It wasn't a conversation of comparatives (Seeing if you had done better in life than someone else) and it wasn't a conversation of insignificant things and it wasn't a conversation of competition.  It was the conversation of friends reconnecting and deeply concerned with what was happening in each other's lives.  There was comfort as we shared our struggles and celebration as we shared our successes.  Everyone was genuinely happy for what was happening in each other's live and grateful to have these conversations.  I just soaked in these wonderful and beautiful people who had made such a difference in my life.  We looked back with fondness on our years and Wingate and we were simply friends.  Back in our college days, it didn't matter that Harriet Suber led the nation in rebounding for women's basketball or that Dianna Monroe led the nation in scoring.  We were just friends, but even more than that.  I look back now and thank God for these pals.  And even though we haven't seen each other in thirty years, Wingate cultivated this idea of building pals so that we could pick up a friendship after such a long time.  I found out that many of my Wingate friends read my Facebook posts and even this blog and would pray for me.  I was humbled to hear them ask questions about my family which showed they were paying attention to what had happened in my life.  It reminded me of Jonathan's love and friendship for David when he said, "Go in peace for  we have sown friendship with each other in the name of the Lord" in I Samuel 20:42.  Let me encourage you to cultivate true friendships with people who will be committed to your well-being and you will commit to theirs!

I wanted to share two more events from Homecoming and hope they will encourage you.  The first was an encounter that I had with one of my classmates, Steve Lear.  He came late to breakfast so I didn't get to sit with him but ran into him walking around the campus.  His 18 year old daughter had been killed in a single car accident.  I knew it had been devastating, but I wanted to talk with him about it.  Steve began to share with me all he had been through dealing with this tragedy.  but it was not a heavy heart, but a heart at peace.  He misses his daughter but has turned this pain over to the Lord.  God has brought healing and peace into his life.  I cannot imagine losing either of my sons, but Steve lost his beautiful daughter.  He shared about the accident, the funeral and how God has utilized his church family and close friends to find peace in this tragedy.  I was struck by the depth of his character and the way he had allowed God to work in his life through this accident.  We both agreed that if it weren't for the love of God and His church family, life would be overbearing.  Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit, but let us encourage one another."  Take the lesson from Steve Lear and immerse yourself in your church.  Not just showing up and taking advantage of ministries, but finding a place to serve and serving with passion.  One day, you will be grateful you have made such a commitment.
The other event that struck me had nothing to do with reminiscing or my classmates.  It had to do with the homecoming king and queen.  At halftime of the football game, they announced the king and queen.  What struck me the most was that the king was not a strapping football stud, but a very average looking student.  I have never met him and am just going on my observations.  He seems like a very nice young man who has the respect of his classmates.  When they announced the queen, I was thrilled to see that it was a young woman who had some developmental struggles because of her height and the use of a brace to walk.  The stands with the students erupted in cheers when this young lady's name was called.  I was so proud to be an alumni of a college in which the students would honor someone by the content of her character, not the way she looked.  The king and queen did not fit the typical mold, but showed the heart of an institution and the students who attend that institution.  It was a confirmation of the correct choice I made thirty five years ago when I chose to make Wingate College my institute of higher learning.
Now I know there are more popular and much bigger colleges than Wingate.  Most of you reading this blog will have to google Wingate (Which is no longer Wingate College but Wingate University) to even have any details about this school.  But this small college in the sandhills of North Carolina had a massive impact on my life.  The friends I made while in my four years there are more than friends, they are pals.  I am thankful that God in His providence saw fit to lead me to a place that would be so immensely important in my life.  To my 1983 classmates, I want you to know how much I love you and thank God for the impact you have had on my life.  My heart is still brightened by spending time with you last weekend and the embraces you shared continue to make my days better.  Though I may be a continent away, I thank God that we can keep up with each other through technology and I look forward to growing closer to you over the coming years.  Thanks for changing my life!!

Monday, October 28, 2013


Later this week, my oldest son and I will be traveling to North Carolina.  On the agenda for the trip is to see my nephew (who is a senior in high school) play football, watch him play in the state soccer play-offs, go to my 30th college reunion, catch up with some high school friends and spend time with my family.  Now that I look at this agenda, it looks busier than I like to be on vacation.  But I'm sure there will be relaxing time during the trip.

I have spent time reflecting on this trip and the opportunities awaiting and wanted to let that guide the focus of this post.  I thought about how exciting it will be to finally see my nephew play football.  I have seen pictures and watched video, but am looking forward to watching him play in person.  I thought about how fast he has grown up and is in his final year of high school.  It seems like just yesterday, we were strapping him into his car seat to go somewhere or watching him try to dribble a basketball which would bounce too high for him or going to Celebration Station to play arcade games or playing video games on the original Play Station.  Now, he has become a man and is going to be making life changing decisions.  Proverbs 22:6 reminds us to "train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it."  As parents of young children, we can't wait until our kids are in high school to invest in their lives.  We only get one shot at raising our kids when they are young, so make the most of that opportunity.  Don't get sidetracked by hanging out with the boys or extra overtime at work or playing with your own toys.  The greatest opportunity we have to teach our children is when they are young.  We teach by example, by our words and by the time we spend with them.  One of the most difficult aspects of being in the ministry is that I have spent my adult years on the other side of the continent from my family.  so I have made a concerted effort to come back to spend time with my family.  Though I have missed a lot of moments in Allen's life, I pray that he will always know he is loved and cared for by his Uncle Ted.  I also am reminded to make sure I am making memories with my own sons because it won't be long before they are seniors in high school and heading off into the real world.

Going back to homecoming at Wingate is something I have looked forward to for a while.  The last time I was at homecoming was ten years ago for our 20th reunion of the class of 1983.  It was wonderful to see some faces I hadn't seen in a while and was  increased by the fact that Leah was pregnant with Thaddeus.  Now, Thaddeus will be making this trip with me.  I look back on the formative years I spent in college and thank God that He drew me to Wingate College (Now Wingate University).  I look back on the friends I made during that time and see how each one had an impact on my life.  Some were always there to encourage.  Others would often kid with me and make me feel welcomed.  There were late night runs to the Flame (The truck stop eatery which was the only place open that late).  There were soccer matches and practices with teammates who shared a common bond of trying to get the first victory in school history.  There were late time talks with friends about things that were going on in our lives.  There were trips to the Sonic riding in the back of my roommate brown truck.  There were classes, tests, and struggles.  There were trips with the debate team to various parts of the country.  There were memories which were made that have come flooding back in the past few weeks as I have thought about those days long ago.

I think back to how young I was in college and how the world lay before me.  The day of graduation, I hung out with my suite-mates and talked about where we were headed.  We have gone to Florida, North Carolina, Hawaii and one has even passed away.  I didn't know what God had in store for me after graduation and never thought He would lead me to Hawaii and California.  I look back and think I should have embraced those moments with friends a little bit more than I did.  Maybe I took for granted that we would often see each other.  Several of those Wingate friends are walking with the Lord, which thrills my heart.  I see their posts of Facebook and get e-mails from them.  I praise God for the way He has chosen to work in each one of our lives.  None of us would have expected the course we have taken.

And so, on Saturday, I will sit back and enjoy hearing the stories of these long-seen friends.  I will be amazed at how young they look and what god has done in their lives.  I'm sure they will give me a hard time and I will do the same to them.  We will embrace and who knows, maybe even shed a tear when we go our separate ways.  God is utilizing this week to teach me how to grasp the moment and hold onto it, trying to make it count.  I am not really a person who lives in the moment because my mind often focuses on what is happening next.  So maybe, just maybe, God can teach me to live a little better in the moment.

I look back over this Sip and realize I haven't actually said anything that would point you to Christ, but have rambled like an old guy looking back on his life.  So be it.  May you take some time today to look back on your life, see how God's hand has moved (Often in unseen ways) and allow you to appreciate the wonderful people He has put in your path.  Jesus tells us we have two path choices:  One is broad and everyone is on it.  The other is narrow and only a few find it.  May you be on the path which leads to salvation and purpose in life.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Just by Inches

This past weekend, the participants for this year's World Series were determined.  My interest isn't as strong this year since neither the Baltimore Orioles or the San Francisco Giants are in the World Series.  The good news is that neither the New York Yankees or the LA Dodgers made it to the World Series either.  However, it is a little sad for an Orioles fan to see the Red Sox back in the fall classic.  Of course, I used to be able to count on the Curse of the Bambino with the Red Sox but they finally won a World Series since trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

Seeing the Red Sox brings to mind one pivotal picture.  It is from thirty eight years ago when the Red Sox  were playing the Cincinnati Reds for the World Series championship.  In the sixth game of the series, the score had been tied and the game went to extra innings.  Then, at 12:34 in the morning, Carlton Fisk came to bat at the bottom of the 12th. He cracked Pat Darcy’s pitch hard to the left. He stood at the plate, bouncing up and down and flailing at the ball as though he was helping an airplane land on a dark runway. "I was just wishing and hoping.   I like to think that if I didn’t wave, it would have gone foul." Whether or not the waving was responsible, the ball bounced off of the bright-yellow foul pole above the Green Monster for a home run. Fenway’s organist played the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah while Fisk rounded the bases.  A few inches farther and the ball would have been foul and the game would have continued.

Isn't it amazing how such a small number can make a big difference.  It's like when you are working on a project and someone shows up unexpectedly to give you a hand.  All of a sudden, a little help can make all the difference.  Yesterday, during church, we had problem with the plumbing at church.  Most everyone in the sanctuary were oblivious to what was going on, including the pastor.  But a few servants noticed the flooding and with a little help were able to get it under control and fix the problem.  These folks not only solved the problem, but cleaned the entire nursery (Several times) where the flooding had taken place.  just a few people made a huge difference that the rest of us never even noticed.  All we knew was we were not allowed to use the bathrooms at church.  As I sit at the church computer this morning, the entire nursery is clean and put back in order to minister again this coming Sunday morning.  Just a few people have made a huge difference.

You can make that kind of a difference today.  Think about someone you haven't seen at church in a while.  How about giving them a call or stopping by to visit them?  You never know what a huge impact your smiling face may have on someone.  It's just a matter of inches!  We get too busy with our own lives and miss out on these opportunities, so let this Sip remind you to touch a life today.  How many of us have been encouraged by someone who took the time to notice us or ask how we were doing?  Like our missionaries reminded us last week, be a four question person.  Take the time to ask four questions of someone and just listen.  You can change the world for one person.  Oh, you won't make the cover of Sports Illustrated, but you will cause the angels to celebrate.  Not a bad way to spend a day.  So go ahead and make that call, send that card or visit that person.  You'll be glad you did.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Meet the Grinder

"Maybe sometimes I'm such a thinker, I reevaluate too much. Sometimes when it comes down to it, I really don't need to do anything, I don't really need to change anything. I need to just keep plugging away, working at it." Michael Chang 


I ran across this quote last Friday and it really fits Michael Chang.  He was a professional tennis player, but he wasn't tall, wasn't strong and didn't have a booming serve.  He won points by having solid ground strokes and running down every ball that came across the net.  He is also a dedicated follower of Christ, which is even more reason to like him.

But I needed to hear that quote on Friday because my day was a grind.  There was very little joy to it and every thing seemed to go wrong or slow.  The day started by taking my truck to the shop only to find out it had blown a head gasket.  They would have to keep it in the shop and it would cost around $1,000, which I don't have lying around.  I thought they were just going to have to change the water pump, but that hope died when I saw the mix of oil and water.  I had put my bike in the back of the truck, so I peddled to back to work.  At work, instead of being able to focus on what I needed, I had to divert energy for another project.  I will put this as nicely as possible:  This project was a project I was asked to do and involved other churches.  Several of those churches had not done what they were supposed to do and others were changing at the last minute.  So most of my work day was spent on this project which should have taken only thirty minutes had churches done what they said they would do.  Finally, I was ready to go home, which meant another bike ride.  The peddle home is usually much more enjoyable because there are more hills to go down than up and the uphills are very slow grades.  I notice that the air in my tires are low, which will slow me down.  Then as I get on the bike, I begin to ride into a stiff head wind, which was in my face the entire trip back.  It was just a grind.  There was no fun to it.  Just grinding away to get it done.  There were other things that happened during that Friday which added to the grind, but you get my drift.

Have you ever had days that were just a grind.  You kept going because you needed to keep going, not because you were having fun?  Had all things been equal, you would have quit.  But you kept going for whatever reason.  When the day finally ended, you were exhausted and ready to go to bed know that whatever happened tomorrow would not compare to what happened to today.

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but often our walk with Christ is a grind.  Following Jesus seems to add to our responsibility or the demand for excellence.  We bought into the notion that if we gave our lives to Jesus, everything would be much better and easier.  We didn't know that He would bring difficulties into our lives or convict us of sin so we could be more like Jesus.  These troubles usually come in sets and appear to be waiting for just the right moment to pounce on us.  All of a sudden, everything seems to be hindering our faith or pulling us away from Jesus.  Life becomes a grind.  Making the time in the morning to be alone with God...a grind.  Keeping focused on prayer throughout the day...a grind.  Living a life of integrity...a grind.  Giving to others who only want to take...a grind.  Even spending time with our family...a grind.


Don't feel bad if you are in the grind, because that appears to be the model for our faith.  Think about Abraham, leaving his family and going on a journey so a land that God had not pinpointed for him...a grind.  Dealing with his wayward nephew, Lot...a grind.  Receiving a promise from God but not having a child to inherit the promise...a grind.  How about Moses?  Forty years on the back side of the desert tending sheep..a grind.  Facing Pharaoh ten times in a row...a grind.  Leading the Hebrews in the wilderness for forty years...a grind.  Then he didn't even get to enter the Promised Land.  The prophets sharing God's message with God's people who didn't want to hear it...a grind.  Jesus spending three years training twelve guys who just didn't get it...a grind.  Jesus going to the cross even though He had done nothing wrong..a grind.  The Apostles trying to teach the church while having to go to prison...a grind.  Paul going all over the world telling others about Jesus and being beaten, stoned, hated and rejected...a grind.


I have come to the conclusion that God loves grinders.  He rarely calls the incredibly talented and gifted because it is too easy to them to rely on themselves.  He calls those who are grinders.  The ones who will keep going even when there is difficulty and opposition.  He wants men and women who are in it for the long haul.  He wants those who are going to keep plugging along, even though they are discouraged or frustrated or confused by what is happening.  He wants grinders.  Read the Bible through the lens of a grinder and you will see how God always calls the grinders, rarely the flash in the pan kind of guys.  Folks with all the skill and talent often end up like Samson or King Saul.  Folks who have little talent but a heart for the Lord end up impacting eternity like King David or Zaccheus.  Think about the men Jesus called as His first disciples.  The only one with any natural talent was Judas and look what happened to him.  His first four Apostles were fishermen - Men who knew what it was like to fish all day, catch nothing and then get up the next morning to do it again.  Grinders.  The greatest complement paid to the Apostles is in Acts 4:13,' When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."  The people were amazed by these grinders and the only common thread was that they had been with Jesus.


Please understand, our culture favors the sprinters rather than the grinders.  We worship celebrities who have done little more than sing, dance, act, hit or throw a ball.  If I were to ask you who is the best quarterback in the NFL today, most people in American would mention Peyton Manning, Drew Bress or Tom Brady.  It would be easy to have that conversation.  BUT if I were to ask, who is the best offensive lineman in the NFL, only the dedicated fans would be able to have a conversation and knowledge of that position.  But without good offensive linemen, the greatest quarterback is only a tackling dummy for the defense.  How about this:  Who won the 100 meters dash in the last Olympics?  Most people would know it was Usain Bolt.  But if I asked who won the marathon, very few people would be able to name Stephen Kiprotic.  I had to look up the winner because I had no idea.  We value the sprinters, not the marathoners.  We value the flash and dash, not the diligent and hard worker.  One of the reasons America is in such difficult financial straits is because Congress authorized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make loans to people who would never be able to pay those loans back.  Many people bought homes they could not afford.  Rather than buying a small home, gaining equity then buying a larger home, young couples decided to buy the home they would like twenty years down the line.  Our country has a $17 trillion deficit because people want the government to take care of their needs and willingly take the "freebies" being offered.  So don't follow the leading of culture.  If you do, your marriage will end in divorce, your kids will be estranged from you and you will float from job to job.

Being a grinder doesn't always insure a "happy" ending.  My truck is still in the shop and will still take $1,000 to be repaired.  That's going to set up back financially a little bit.  I still had to ride my bike to work today, going up two major hills.  I am still trying to get those churches to step up and do what they said they would do.  I'm having to bum rides off people because we only have one vehicle.  I have other work that needs to get done and need to have a 20 hour work day to get it all done.  So I'm still grinding.  Don't buy into the lie that if you grind for a little while, everything will work out perfectly.  You may be grinding for a looooong time!

God is looking for grinders because, in the end, the grinders impact eternity.  The sprinters come and go, but the grinders can be counted on to stand firm when others fall.  So if you are grinding today, let me encourage you to keep grinding.  In the end, it will always be worth it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Signing Up for Exemptions

The Affordable Care Act is coming and it is causing quite a bit of panic.  From elected officials to health officials to owners of businesses, there is fear about the impact of Obamacare.  I try to read a lot of news from a variety of spectrums and I have struggled to find anyone who is genuinely happy with this mandate.  Perhaps, most telling about this law is how many people are trying to get exemptions.  Did you know that over 700 businesses already have an exemption?  If you would like to see the list, here is a link, although I doubt you will have the time for it.  Even more disheartening is the fact that although Congress and their staff will have to enter the insurance exchanges, they will have a large percentage of their premiums paid by the US Tax payers.  If our president really wants to know how good and effective this law is, he should allow any America to sign up to be exempt from it.  My guess is, there wouldn't be a whole lot of Americans lining up to join this new monstrosity.  The same probably goes for Social Security.  If Americans were given the choice to opt out, quite a few would sign up.  Of course, our elected officials are already exempt from Social Security, so they have no fear about the system being broke.


As always, this is not a political commentary, just stating the obvious.  The most obvious point to these laws are that those who enacted them are exempt from them.  If these laws are so good, shouldn't they apply to every American without any exemptions...elected officials included?  This is the "Do as I say, not as I do" philosophy.  No wonder Americans have no faith in their government to accomplish anything meaningful.  Too much not practicing what they preach.  This is the ultimate level of hypocrisy and most Americans are disgusted by this.  Lawmakers keep exacting their pound of flesh from the tax-payers, while fattening themselves on these very laws.

It's easy to pick on our government because it is an easy target.  Too many lawyers as elected officials and not enough common sense will do it every time.  But the point of this blog is for those of us claiming to follow Jesus.  I think the world is tired of the hypocrisy of the Church.  Jesus at the end of the sermon on the mount says, "Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it".  Too many in the church live like this isn't a reality.  They go along with whatever is culturally acceptable and expedient, even misusing the Bible to justify their compromises.  The world looks at us and they see nothing inviting about our lives.  We have the same divorce rate, cohabitation, single pregnancies, cheating, lying, cussing, trashing dressing, etc. as the rest of the world.  Even more than that, they see our critical spirit, defeatism, bitterness, unresolved anger and lack of purpose.  They see our hypocrisy and avoid any meaningful discussion with us.  The Bible draws the line in the sand for our heart and behavior, but we keep moving the line or the impact of crossing the line.  So rather than pick on our elected officials, we should probably pray for them.  Rather than try to fit in with our culture, we should prepare to be mistreated for living a holy life.  Rather than grip and complain about all that is wrong in the world, we should reflect hope and grace.  Rather than crush those who oppose us, we should show grace and forgiveness.  Maybe we should stop looking for exemptions to holy living and focus on the testimony that arises from such living. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Best Advertisement

On Sunday, September 15th, Hillcrest Baptist Church participated in the El Sobrante Stroll.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Stroll, it is a 1/4 mile long block party on San Pablo Dam Road.  The El Sobrante Chamber of Commerce sponsors the event and closes that 1/4 mile stretch of the road.  Businesses and vendors can rent spaces at the Stroll to sell their products or interact with the community.  At our booth, we had a game for the kids (The Labyrinth), a craft table and welcome table with candy, church information, flyers, etc.  This year's Stroll seemed to be smaller than in the past, but there were probably still over 10,000 people in attendance.  The weather was perfect and we had plenty of church members show up to work our booth.

While I was at our booth, a lady came by trying to sell our church on advertising in the Valley Yellow Pages.  As she began her sales pitch, I cut her off because we are not going to advertise with them, so I didn't want to waste her time.  We don't have the financial resources, plus I don't think that would be the best way to advertise.  So I began to think about what is the best way for a church to advertise.  I have seen some churches in our area advertise in "The Marketplace", a local monthly magazine.  Most of these printed ads point out how boring other churches are and how exciting their churches are.  I'm not sure if I really want to put down other churches to make our church look better.  Other churches advertise in the newspaper.  Some may advertise on television.  Others may use billboards.  Others maybe use mailers.  Others may use the Internet, Facebook or other social media.  I thought about the times our church has used these different methods and the results they have brought.  Usually, they bring people who are already saved, but not satisfied with their church.  I have found that they will get involved in the church as long as our church is the "happening" thing.  Then they will move on to another church where they can get their next spiritual fix.

Then I thought about the Jesus method of advertising and came to the conclusion that the best way a church can advertise is utilizing the two methods Jesus told us to implement.  Method #1 - The Share Method:  This method is based on Matthew 28:9-20, where Jesus told His disciples to GO and make disciples.  It is also based on Matthew 10 when Jesus sends His own disciples out into the towns/cities having them share about the Kingdom of God.  This method means we go out into the community rather than trying to bring the community to us.  We connect with them where they live and interact with them on their ground.  This means we end up getting our hands and feet dirty.  We get to know people, talk with them and invite them to come to Jesus.  As we go to work, to school or live in our neighborhood, we intentionally get to know people and connect with them.  As we do this, God will open doors for us to share His salvation with them.  Most churches using secular mediums to advertise are inviting the community to come to church. There is nothing wrong or sinful with inviting someone to church.  We should be doing this daily.  But a church which is not proactively out in the community is a church which is simply growing by shuffling the deck of Christians in the community into their building.  The Share Method is uncomfortable for us because we are risking rejection or abuse as we attempt to connect people with Christ.  Yet, this is the method Jesus utilized and trained His disciples to utilize.

There is one other method, but it is a secondary method.  Method #2 is the Care Method.  In John 13:35, He says, "By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another."  This method gets a little tricky because it means we have to show agape love to the entire body of Christ - And there are some people in the body of Christ we may not get along with very well.  So, we have to throw off all prejudices and genuinely love others in the Church.  When someone sees us interacting with our church family, they should be amazed at the depth of love and commitment we have to each other.  If they come to our booth at the Stroll, they should immediately sense a deep love.  When they come to our church, they should see God's love being expressed in practical ways.  This method is costly to us personally, because we must let God remove our ego, need to be right and human tendency to find fault.  This method can't be faked.  Only Jesus can give us this kind of love.  Yet, this is what our culture is so deeply missing.  We have lots of ways to communicate with texts, Facebook, e-mails, Twitter and a host of other mediums.  But we have a very low level of love being expressed and felt today.  People are connected with the world, yet deeply isolated and alone.  This method will take a lot of energy and time, but is a tremendous opportunity for the Church today.

So I won't ask Hillcrest Baptist Church to advertise in the Valley Yellow Pages.  BUT I will ask us to reach out to the community and let our lives and love be an advertisement for Jesus.  As you can see by the photos above, the Stroll allowed us to connect utilizing both methods.  We distributed over 130 invitations to TeamKid, distributed over 75 church flyers, gave out 30 evangelistic tracts in Spanish and English, had over 200 children make a craft, had at least 200 people play the Labyrinth and connected with many in our community.  The Stroll was a wonderful way for us to employ the methods Jesus gave us.  So what about you?  What are you doing, personally, to teach out with the Share Method?  What are you doing, personally, to advertise Jesus with the Care Method?  This is the best advertisement available to the church.  What are you advertising?