Monday, March 18, 2013

Who is your boss?

This past Sunday, the son of a former pastor, Kapono Haynes Nailiili shared about his journey of faith.  It was exciting to hear him describe how God has opened doors through his gift of music.  He gets to travel to Japan and the mainland, sharing joy through his music.  He spoke about the way he believes his music is given to him by God.  He has had opportunities to play in Christian bands, but those bands only want him to play Christian music.  He believes that he can have more contact with people needing Jesus by playing secular music also.  He is a Christian who is gifted by God as a musician, not a musician who happens to be a Christian.  This is a radical, but quite Biblical way of viewing our jobs, gifts and talents.

In Colossians 3:23, Paul is writing to the slaves at Colossae and tells them, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your hear, as working for the Lord, not men."  This is written to those who are in slavery and reminded that they have a calling to honor God is how they work.  They cannot use their position as an excuse to slough off, but must remember who their boss really is:  The Lord.  So they are to work as if their boss were the Lord Jesus and not their owner.  Please do not see this as an affirmation of slavery, but as an affirmation of a vibrant faith which will impact every aspect of our lives.

So who is your boss?  When you go to work, do you focus on your human boss or on the Lord who gave you the job?  When you go to school, do you listen to your teachers as you listen to the Lord?  Do you complete your homework as if you were seeking to honor God or to just get a passing grade?  When we are given a thankless task at work which we believe is beneath our skill level, do we work diligently at that job to honor the Lord or do we grumble, complain and do a sloppy job?  When your parents ask you to help our around the house, what is your response?  Do you talk back, complain and waste time or do you jump in and get the job done?  

Let's go back to Kapono's understanding of his occupation:  He sees this music as a gift, so he wants to honor God in how he handles this gift.  Do you look at your job as a gift from God?  Do you look at your school as a gift from God?  Do you look at your parents, spouse and children as gifts from God?  Do you look at your neighborhood as a gift from God?  Do you look at your sport as a gift from God?  If we do, then we will work at it with all our heart as unto the Lord.

So who is your boss?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sweet Spring Training

A few weeks ago pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training at Major League Baseball teams in Arizona and Florida.  For those of us who enjoy baseball, this is sweet music to our ears.  Baseball is my favorite professional game to watch.  I have always enjoyed playing basketball, but few events rival watching a major league game on a beautiful sunny day.  Baseball is the only sport in which the defense has the ball.  It is also a sport which allows the luxury of unhurried time between plays.  There are so many minor nuances and details to the game which the uninitiated fan will miss.  Today's sports fans are so obsessed with fast pace, much like the age in which we live, that they are unable to even watch an entire game.  Living in the Bay Area, I have the luxury of watching two major league teams, though my son is very partial to the Giants.  However, the A's are a much more affordable option, but watching a game at AT&T Park is an incredible experience.  We are looking forward to catching a few games this year and watching the Giants defend their World Series title.

I have always wanted to go to Spring Training.  Each year, we look at options for going, but we want to make sure our sons are old enough to enjoy the experience.  Spring Training is the place where the teams look at the prospect in the minor leagues, incorporate free agents into their team and go over the fundamentals with their returning players.  It is also a place where those players who have been injured rehab from those injuries and begin to test their body's response to the surgery or injury.  Players who have been playing for many years at the major league level are required to be at Spring Training as they go over the basic fundamentals and plays which will be run throughout the course of a 162 game season.  They may only see this particular play one time during the entire season, but the outcome of a game might hinge on how well they execute.  If you go to Spring Training, you will see All-Stars, bench players, rookies, free agents and minor leaguers side by side working on the same fundamentals.  Everything done in Spring Training is to prepare for the long season.  So in less than a month, the teams determine their final roster, strengthen fundamentals and then begin the long journey of an MLB season.

Hebrews 10:25 tell us, "Lets us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching".  From my perspective, participating in church each Sunday is like Spring Training.  The body of Christ gathers together each week to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, which is why the Church changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  We gather to go over spiritual fundamentals and encourage each other.  We talk about the game plan for the week that lies ahead.  Those who are hurting are able to be around others who will help them rehab from those struggles and gain a new perspective on faith.  It is the time when the church hears God's game plan for the week as He prepares us for the life experience which await us.  It is a place where you will see mature followers of Christ side-by-side with those who are brand new to the Faith or those who haven't even taken that step of faith yet.  The real season for the follower of Christ is not Sunday mornings, but once we leave the church building.  That is when all the preparation of Sunday will pay off...on Monday morning when a temptation comes our way.  On Wednesday afternoon when we see someone who is hurting.  On Thursday evening when our neighbors need help.  On Friday morning when we get an e-mail from a fellow Christian who is having a crisis of faith.  The list goes on and on.  I hope you can see the significance of Spring Training for the follower of Christ and will make being in church a top priority.

Can major league players play the game without going to Spring Training?  Most assuredly.  However, their play is limited by their lack of practice, their lack of interaction with their teammates and their inability to know what plays the team will be running.  Can you be a faithful follower of Christ without going to church?  I guess so, but you would be hard pressed to show a Biblical example of that.  We are also putting ourselves in a position of failure, pride and isolation by making such a move.  I pray that you will make being in church a high priority each week.  You will definitely be tempted to compromise, but stand firm and see what God has in store for you because of your faithfulness.  Make God bless you this Sunday at "Spring Training".

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Fall of Orthodoxy

When I was growing up, the biggest church in America was the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas.  W.A. Criswell was the longtime pastor and this church was the model of orthodox faith.  Everyone speculated about who would be the pastor to follow Criswell and many upheld this church as a model of service and faith.  Now in 2013, this church has become the focus of sharp-worded attacks on her character.  Because of this pressure, Tim Tebow decided to cancel a speaking engagement he had scheduled at the church due to the pressure from certain media outlets.  The church has been branded controversial and hateful.  So I went to their web site to see what their core beliefs were.  Here are their core beliefs:  The authority of Scripture, humanity was created to worship God, prayer is a privilege/responsibility of Christians, the family is God's foundation for the human family, Jesus transforms His followers lives, every member is a minister, every person needs to hear the message of salvation and followers of Christ are to be stewards.  I would say those things are pretty much orthodox theology for the Church over the centuries.  So I figured people must be upset over the things they value.  Once again, I checked out their values:  Worship God, equip the saints, serve the community and have a Christian influence in the world.  Once again, there was nothing which was contrary to the orthodox teaching of Jesus and His disciples.  It appears that the church is in hot water because of the things the pastor has said over the years:  Islam is not a religion of peace, homosexual acts are sinful, Jesus is the only means of salvation and Mormonism is a cult.  Maybe people are upset over his choice of words, but these topics are Biblical and quite orthodox for the Church founded by Jesus.

Orthodox is defined as the authorized or generally accepted doctrine.  I hear people in the church claim to be evangelicals or liberals or other titles.  I guess I would have to be labeled as orthodox because I simple try to follow that which Christ laid as the foundation, the Apostles taught and the Church has tried (Imperfectly) to follow for the past two thousand years.  I'm fairly skeptical of those who have suddenly found something that was missing for centuries and massage the Bible to reinforce this great insight.  I figure if it was good enough for Jesus, the Apostles and the early church, it's good enough to the church today.

I grew up in North Carolina during a much simpler time when the Bible belt was more like the Bible belt.  Though not all were Christians, the culture reinforced the values of the church.  Stores were closed on Sundays and nothing happened on Sundays until after noon.  On Sunday mornings, the only things going on were at the church.  There were no kids ball games or tournaments, there were no family parties or other gatherings to take you away from church.  To my young mind, it seemed like everyone went to church (Although that was far from true).  It took minimal effort to act like a Christian because everyone was expected to honor the values of the Church.  Schools reinforced those values and if you didn't follow those values, you would be sent to the principal or even worse, your parents would be called.  I remember when God began calling me into the ministry, I tried to strike up some bargains with Him.  One of my bargains was that I would do anything He wanted me to do, I just didn't want to stay in the South.  I wanted to minister in a place where Christianity wasn't the dominant cultural motivator.  I wanted to live in a place where going to church would make you different.  A place where following Christ was out of the ordinary and would be going against the flow.  I had seen way too many people who went to church on Sunday because it was culturally expected, but live like the devil during the week.  I wanted to be in a place where it was costly to be a Christian.  I had grown weary of lukewarm faith which seemed to be of little value.  So God answered by prayers and sent me to Hawaii and then California.  Two wonderful places with incredible people and some of the most beautiful geography in America.  But the lightest traffic on the roads in both of those states is on Sunday morning.  In the Bay Area, less than 4% of the population will go to any church during the week.

To anyone who is perceptive, it is obvious that all of America has become a place where the values of the church are no longer the values of the whole.  Even in the church, orthdoxy has fallen and is being replaced by a more relative and Biblically light Christianity.  The bashing of FBC Dallas is a reminder than orthodox beliefs will no longer be tolerated in America.  John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 will now be regarded as hate speech.  To claim that only through Jesus a person may receive the gift of eternal life elevates the claimant to the level of hater, ignorant and destructive.   To hold to these orthodox views will now bring comparisons to Westboro Baptist Church or other misguided groups claiming to follow Jesus.

I don't say all this to wax poetically about the good ol' days or long for the way things used to be.  Whether I like it or not, this was the answer to my prayer.  We now live in a country where the vast majority of citizens reject orthodox Christianity.  Rather than see this as a curse, I view it as a blessing.  For the first time in my lifetime, being a Christian in America means being a radical, a rebel, a misunderstood villain, much like the first Apostles.  What a great opportunity to live Christ with passion and joy because the greatest persecution of the orthodox church is coming from others claiming to be followers of Jesus.  We are much like Esther, born for such a time as this.  God is utilizing the cultural shift in America to prepare His Church.  He is trying to help us build spiritual muscles that come from faith which is totally dependent on God.  He wants us to have a weakness in our own strength, so we can see an outpouring of His Holy Spirit.  He wants to see His Church repenting of lukewarmness and deciding to follow Jesus - Not into the political arena, but into everyday life.  We don't need more politicians, we need more orthodox followers of Christ.  The time is coming soon when the orthodox church in America will take a beating, publicly and politically.  But the Church has always been purified by persecution.  There will probably be much less people in orthodox churches on Sunday mornings, but there will be a deeper faith, worship and commitment than there has been in the past.  Let's look forward with anticipation to what the future holds, rather than longing for how things used to be.  Lets' thank God for the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Apostles and the early Church.  Let's Praise Him for giving us this time to let our light so shine before men that they will see our good deeds and glorify our father in Heaven.  Let's not move to political solutions, but towards prayer solutions.  Some trust in chariots and others in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord!  May you be refreshed to live out the orthodox faith handed down to us from the Apostles and dedicated followers of Jesus over the centuries.