Monday, November 17, 2014

That's What Service Looks Like

"Then the righteous will answers him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'  The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me."
-Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 25

This same Jesus who said the above also told us that the greatest in His Kingdom would be the servant of all.  He then set the example as He served His followers by washing their dirty feet after a long day on the road.  Ultimately, He set the example of service as He died on the cross for the sins of humanity - Even those who would deny His existence or warp what He said to fit their own agenda and even those of us who have received that gift of grace.  The essence of the Christian life is found in a deeply planted passion to serve others.  When we experience regeneration, we now have a heart which is thrilled to serve others...not because we HAVE to but because we are compelled to.  We find our greatest joy and satisfaction in life when we see others touched by the love of Jesus through our service.

We live in a self-centered world.  People have become takers, whiners and complainers.  Just read most Facebook posts and you will see people venting, pointing out the flaws of others and posting articles which slam other people with a different world view.  We live in a country which has become deeply divided by race, region, politics and so many other ways.  The one place where this doesn't happen is in the church.  Each Sunday, it is refreshing to see an incredible mix of people coming together to worship Jesus and minister to each other.  So what does service look like?  Here are a few glimpses I have seen in the past few weeks:

-Service looks like followers of Jesus filling shoe boxes with toys, supplies and gifts for children all over the world whom they will never meet.  A church of only 75 on a Sunday morning collected 80 shoe boxes to give to Samaritan's Purse so that unknown kids in unknown corners of the world could know the joy of receiving an unexpected gift - And maybe the gift of salvation.

-Service looks like followers of Jesus bringing boxes of pie crust mix to give to the Telegraph Center in Oakland so those who are need could have a dessert on Thanksgiving.  If not for Hillcrest Baptist Church, the Telegraph Center would only have food for a meal and not for dessert.  The East Bay Baptist Association has over 140 churches/missions, but Hillcrest is the only one who gives food to this outreach.  Service is a desire to help people in need, even if we will not see or meet those people.

-Service looks like followers of Jesus getting together to go and visit those in our church.  They are attempting to visit all of our church members and see what needs there may be and how we can meet them.  They want everyone in our church family to know they are loved and deeply cared for.

-Service looks like children who are so excited about coming to church that they invite and bring their friends.  This past Sunday evening at TeamKid, we had sixteen children in grades 1-6.  Seven of those kids have no family at our church, but they come and learn about Jesus.  One of those was being brought by her neighbor (Who is a member of our church) and this young girl said, "I love this church".

-Service looks like followers of Jesus caring so much about the witness of the church that they clean the church every week.  These members give up their time to sweep, mop, vacuum, dust, empty trash and do so much more.  No one thanks them and most people don't know they are cleaning, but they serve Jesus.

There are many more examples from Hillcrest Baptist Church that help us understand what service looks like, but there is not enough room in this blog.  As Pastor of this church, I want to thank you for your service.  I know if many churches, a small number of people do most of the service, but that isn't the case here.  Thank you for all the ways you serve in Jesus' name and the way you touch lives each day with the love of Jesus.  One day, you will hear from THE King, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world."

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Strength of the Kingdom

This past Sunday, we had the wonderful opportunity to honor a woman who is faithfully serving the Lord at Hillcrest.  Doris Hurst turned 80 and we celebrated her birthday.  Unlike many people in her age category, she is still going strong.  She is still teaching the children in our preschool Sunday School class.  Each week, she comes up on Thursday to prepare her classroom and then shows up 30 minutes before Sunday School to welcome every child.  She has ministered to so many families over the past several decades and is still making an impact.  At the end of the service, we called forward everyone who has been taught by her or whose children have been taught by her:  Over 90% of the congregation came forward.  As we laid hands on her and prayed for her, I was thrilled to see how one life can impact so many others.

This is the model Jesus set for us while He was on the earth.  He simply invested in twelve men and those men invested in others.  The Kingdom of God has grown and grown until it has reached us.  I know many people who like to discuss and argue great theological questions.  They enjoy finding fault with those who theology doesn't quite measure up and nit pick on them.  However, the strength of THE church is not found in these Wannabe Church Guardians.  The strength of the Church is found in servants like Doris.  The servants who humbly going about investing the basic truth that Jesus loves us and is our Savior are the ones who are changing eternity.  There are countless and unnamed millions of saints faithfully serving the Lord as best they can.  They won't get notoriety on this earth and they don't have the theological pedigree to argue with the Wannabes.  These humble saints really are the ones on whom the Kingdom is built.

I am grateful that we had the opportunity to thank Doris Hurst for being such a Godly example for us to follow.  I am thrilled that my sons have had their first taste of God's love at the hands or Doris Hurst.  I pray that you will be a servant like Doris.  Remember that you are the ones who have an impact on the Kingdom, so keep grinding.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Getting Called Up

In professional baseball, players who are drafted have to prove themselves and earn their way on to a major league team.  Only one player has ever been drafted and gone straight to the major league team without spending time in the minors.  His name is Bob Horner and it happened for the Atlanta Braves back in the 1970's.  All other players have to prove themselves at each level before they can advance, so by the time they make it to the major league team they have already played years of baseball for their organization.

Here is an example from the San Francisco Giants of those steps a player must take:
A Short-Season:  Salem-Keizer Volcanoes
Low A:  Augusta Green Jackets
Advanced A:  San Jose Giants
AA:  Richmond Flying Squirrels
AAA:  Fresno Grizzlies

Elliot Blair speaking with Thaddeus before a San Jose Giants' game

So a player may take as many as five or six years to advance from Salem-Keizer to San Francisco and the majority of minor leaguers will never play an inning for the major league team.

Three weeks ago, we had a player from the San Jose Giants share his testimony during Sunday School.  Elliott Blair is a 46th round draft choice of the Giants who had spent most of last season and all of this season at San Jose.  He shared about his walk of faith with us and it was an honor to hear how this man of God is following the Lord.  Well, last week, Elliott got called up to AA Richmond.  We actually saw him play at Stockton on Monday and he gave one of his broken bats to Thaddeus. Two days later, he was on his way to Richmond and played his first game on Sunday.  He also go his first hit on Sunday and we pray that he will advance to San Francisco so he can be a witness for Christ.  But now he has to prove himself at Richmond before he can advance to Fresno.  He is still a long way off from the majors, but he is getting closer.

Elliot at Hillcrest Baptist Church

I wish we would take the same view of our maturity in Christ.  Unfortunately, we just presume that if someone has been coming to church for a certain amount of years then they must have grown in their faith.  So we then give them ministry assignments and hope that it sticks.  Many of us even think that God should see us as faithful, even though we have never proved our faith or our steadfastness.  Unfortunately, I know many Christians who have been coming to church for years but still are immature in their faith.  They have not grown, but feel like they are mature.

Here are what I have seen are the marks of a maturing saint, one who is trying to advance from Low A to Advanced A or from AA to AAA in their faith.  you probably have other marks, but these are mind:
-He is faithful in small group participation (Whether that is Sunday School or weekday small groups)
-He is in God's Word every day.  He has a devotion time or quiet time (Whichever phrase works for you)
-He is accountable to others who are walking with the Lord.  He has invited them into his life to check on him or call him on things.  He doesn't get upset when lovingly confronted by one of these mentors.
-He is pouring himself into the lives of others.  It may only be one person, but he is helping others grow in their faith.  We always grow more when we are leading than when we are being led.
-He is sharing His faith.

So how are you doing?  Baseball calls the minor league system "Player development".  Maybe we should call discipleship "Saint Development".  The Church is dependent on raising up new leaders and we must continually be developing stronger disciples.  Those disciples are the one who build up the next generation of followers.  All of us should desire and aim towards making it to the majors and our church should help us in that development.  If you are a member or attend Hillcrest Baptist Church and would like to develop as a saint, give me a call and let's start you on that journey.

Let's let you get that call up to the majors!

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Call to Serve

This past Sunday, Hillcrest Baptist church enjoyed a milestone event as Herbert Aromin was ordained into the deacon ministry.  Why would anyone want to be a deacon?  Well, if the truth be known, the ones who deac well don't really want to be deacons.  They haven't gone looking for this office.  They have simply been faithful servants in the church who are growing in their faith.  The church recognized this and felt led by God to ask them to serve as deacon.  Herbert didn't ask to be made a deacon and he actually declined serving as a deacon for a couple of years.  Finally, he felt like he had been using excuses rather than stepping up as a deacon.  So, he left it in God's hands and allowed himself to be nominated.  He went through a process of being questioned by our active deacons and then was brought before an ordination council made up of many different ordained men.  This council felt he was qualified and recommended him to be ordained as a deacon.  So on Sunday, we had the privilege of ordaining Herbert Aromin into the deacon ministry.  This doesn't change who he is or what he does:  He will still serve as he has been doing ever since he joined the church.  however, he will now have added responsibility in that service.

Hillcrest expects her deacons to serve.  They do such important functions as opening/closing the church for ministries and events, opening/closing the gates to our parking lots, coming to the church if the alarm company calls, visiting with the pastor, staying in contact with our church members, preparing the Lord's Supper, preparing and cleaning the baptistery and are always the first ones I call when a thankless job needs to be done.  They even have to miss some of the worship service to patrol the parking lot, making sure that our vehicles are safe and sound.  Deacon is not a position of authority but one of service.  We expect our deacons to set the example for the rest of the church.  So after every fellowship or meal we have in the church, the deacons are the ones who sweep, mop and lock up after the event.  They serve in a multitude of ways that most folks in the church never see or notice, unless the deacons forget to do it.

Jesus has an expectation of His followers:  He expects us to be servants.  Matthew 20 says, "24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus has never measured greatness by a bank account, political power, popularity or possessions.  He has measured greatness by service without seeking recognition.  He set the example for us on the cross as He gave His life as a ransom for us.  So He has every right to expect service from His followers.

I am constantly amazed at people who want to meet Jesus on their own terms, not on His.  They want the benefits of following Jesus without the costs of following Jesus.  They have a convenient faith.  They are all about Jesus when they need Him, but they don't want to hear about service, sacrifice and dedication.  They want the church to meet their needs, but they never serve anyone in the church.  They rarely come to church, but when they are in the hospital, they expect the church leaders to know and show up to visit them.  They get bent out of shape when the church doesn't meet their needs.  They come every Sunday, asking for help with something else in their lives, yet rarely have they ever come to church and asked others how they could help them.  They have an immature and self-centered faith and view of the church.  They become more of a burden to the church than an asset to the church.  I have little time or use for those who have this attitude, but I love being around people who enjoy serving.  I like hanging out with them because I know I will get the opportunity to serve with them.  They push me out of my comfort zone in asking me to help meet the needs of others.  They never drain me, but they enthuse me. 

I am grateful to serve in a church with a lot of servants, whether they are officially deacons or not.  As example of that attitude is the fellowship after Herbert's ordination:  The people of Hillcrest provided a feast, even though we talked about having a light snack.  One of our members even brought his own fryer so he could fry these incredible treats.  Another member rolled and cooked lumpia.  All of the food tables showed the love and service of the Hillcrest members.  I love being a part of a church with servants.  Even as I write this on Monday morning at 7:45, one of our members has been here since 7:00 repairing some dry wall in one of our classrooms.  Thanks for living out the call of Jesus to serve.

For those of you not involved in Hillcrest:  How's your service?  In your church, have you found a place to serve and been one of the unseen servants or are you sitting back and letting others do the work?  Follow the example of Herbert and Jesus....Serve!!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Try to Hide It

Many people have heard about Watergate, but many have no idea what Watergate really was.  The Watergate was a hotel and office complex that housed the Democratic National Convention during the 1972 election.  Then President Richard Nixon was seeking re-election against George McGovern.  Nixon ordered that wire taps be placed into the DNC offices and so G. Gordon Liddy and John Dean orchestrated the break-in.  During the Watergate hearings, it was revealed that President Nixon had recordings of all White House conversations, something many presidents had done.  However, he did not manually control the recordings like other presidents had done.  His recordings were voice activated, so he did not have control.  Most White House staff members and the general public had no idea that this had been happening.  These tapes could hold recordings as to whether Nixon ordered the Watergate break-ins or not.  However, the most critical tape had 18 1/2 minutes erased from it.  This gap was during a meeting of Nixon and his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman.  Haldeman's own notes from the meeting mentioned discussing the Watergate affair, but the tapes had been erased.  So the hearing were never able to produce a connection of Nixon to the ordering of the break-ins.  With many calls for impeachment, Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency in August of 1974.  The irony of Watergate is that Nixon soundly defeated McGovern and had nothing to fear in regards to the election.  Trying to hide his bad choices led to his downfall and disgrace.

Fast forward to the election of 2012 and the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS.  President Barak Obama stated when the story first broke that it was simply a rogue agent in Ohio who had done this.  However, as more facts have come out, it is obvious that this was a much wider plan to target critics of the President.  Enter Lois Lerner, a Director of the IRS, who was brought before a hearing of Congress to determine what had happened and who was responsible.  During the hearings, she invoked the 5th Amendments and refused to answer any questions.  However, e-mails have been subpoenaed by Congress and guess what?  Most of her e-mails cannot be found, have been deleted and are missing.  Sound familiar?  Perhaps the proof showing the President not only know about, but ordered these actions has been "lost".  What will happen with this drama and how will it play out?  I doubt it will lead to impeachment hearings nor Obama's resignation because the standard of honesty and integrity is so low for our leaders today.  However, Obama's legacy will always be surrounded by this scandal, much as Nixon's legacy is surrounded by Watergate.

Why do we try to hide our sins and shortcomings?  Any parent can list the numerous occasions in which they caught their children red-handed and their children vehemently denied any wrong doing.  The more the children lied and tried to cover things up, the more upset parents became.  It hurts to see our children lie and then try to hide what they have done.  We would much rather have our kids own up to it and take responsibility.

I guess this is just part of our fallen nature.  Remember Adam and Eve?  When they disobeyed God, what did they do?  They hid themselves from God.  A relationship that once had been so pure and right, had now been corrupted by bad choices.  Okay, it was corrupted by sin.   It's been happening ever since because we all sin.  Some people try to avoid the consequences by denying there is a God or by thinking a loving God would never punish His creation.  But deep down, we know something is wrong in our lives.  Some people try to avoid the consequences by blaming others.  Some people try to avoid the consequences by avoiding the topic.  Some people try to avoid the consequences by numbing themselves through alcohol, pot, drugs or anti-depressants.  But none of that works.  The pain just eats away at us from the inside out.

Our model needs to be David.  David was far from perfect and he sinned by sleeping with a married woman and then having her husband conveniently die in battle.  He thought he had gotten away with it and he had hidden his sin until Nathan confronts him.  When David realizes that no sin is ever hidden from God, he is broken and driven to his knees in pain and repentance.  It is out of this anguish that he prays Psalm 51.  In verse 3, he says this incredible message of responsibility, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me."  He takes responsibility for his sin and then asks for God's forgiveness.

God doesn't want us to pretend we are perfect people.  He doesn't want us to deny or minimize our sin.  He wants us to be honest about our choices, our lies, our sins and own up to what we have done.  He waits with forgiveness, grace and cleansing, although we will still have to face the consequences of our sin.  So today, rather than try to hide what is wrong, how about some deep, gut-wrenching honesty before God.  I promise, you will experience and joy and peace more profound than any you have ever had before!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Big Fundamental

Last night, the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the Miami Heat to win a fifth NBA championship since Tim Duncan was drafter by them in 1998.  The teamwork of San Antonio was too much for the talent of South Beach, leading to blow outs in the four games the Spurs won.  Tim Duncan (From Wake Forest, of course) is the cornerstone of that team.  He has even taken less pay so the management could keep the team in tact and add better players.  His nickname is "The Big Fundamental" because his basic skills are solid.  What sets Duncan apart from many other outstanding players in the NBA today is that he stayed four years at Wake Forest rather than turning pro early.  Since his Sophomore year at Wake Forest, he was pressured to turn professional because he would have been a high draft pick.  However, Duncan stayed in school, graduated from Wake Forest and was the number 1 pick in the 1998 draft.  He wanted to stay at Wake Forest to earn a degree and because he felt like he still needed to learn more basketball before going to the NBA.  It seems to have worked:  He has been an All-Star fourteen years, Rookie of the Year, two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, and the only player to be named to the All-NBA teams and All-Defensive team in his first thirteen seasons.  He has created the Tim Duncan Foundation to raise general health awareness and fund education and youth sports in various parts of the United States.  His personal motto is a nursery rhyme his mother taught him, "Good, Better, Best. Never let it rest / Until your Good is Better, and your Better is your Best." 

Most of you probably know of Tim Duncan, even if you are not a sports fan.  Do you know any of the names on this list?  Larry Hughes, Ricky Davis, Al Harrington, Rashard Lewis, Korleone Young, Lamar Odom, Jonathan Bender, Corey Maggette, Leon smith, Darious Miles, DerMarr Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Donnell Harvey, DeShawn Stevenson, Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Eddie Griffin, DeSagna Diop, Rodney White, Gerald Wallace, Omar Cook, Ousmane Cisse, Alston Ford, Dajuan Wagner, Amare Stoudamire, Qyntel Woods and Jamal Sampson.  Do you know what all of these people share in common.  These are all basketball players who were drafted between the years 1998 through 2001 who either were drafted in the NBA right our of high school or only played one year of college.  A couple of these have been NBA All-stars, but none has had a career that comes remotely close to matching Tim Duncan.  Can you imagine how much better these men would have been had they gone to college for four years?  They could have walked away with college degrees, which would have provided opportunities beyond basketball.  They could have refined their skills under a much less glaring light in college.  They could have naturally matured into young men rather than having the pressure of notoriety and money thrown at them too early in life.  I just wonder how much better their NBA and post-NBA careers would have been had they approached college the same way as Tim Duncan.  Unfortunately, we will never know.  We also will never hear about or see the vast number of young men who declare for the NBA straight out of high school or after their freshman year of college who never get drafted or play a minute in an NBA game.  All of these players are good enough to have earned a college scholarship, but none of them took total advantage of that opportunity.

(Qyntel Woods on draft day 2002)

Learning fundamentals is the key to being successful in life.  Rarely do we stumble upon something in our foolishness and it bring success in our lives.  This applies to sports, finances, a career and even our faith in Christ.  If we look at Saul (Who later changed his name to Paul), we see how this plays out in our faith.  In Acts 9:19-26, we see that immediately after his conversion, the disciples in Damascus disciple and trained him, even though he was already a very learned man.  Then he went to Jerusalem where he joined the Apostles after Barnabas intervened, when he received even more training.  Before moving on to do any mission work, he developed the fundamentals of his faith.  Because of that solid foundation, he became a powerful instrument of God's Spirit in the early years of the Church.

So how are you doing with learning the fundamentals of our faith?  I don't mean showing up to church because showing up for church does not insure maturity and growth.  It actually can lead to a false sense of security which will falter when put to the test.  Who has disciple you?  Who has taken you under his/her wing to insure that you learned the basics of the Christian faith?  Have you been walked through understanding the joy and discipline of studying the Bible?  Have you learned to pray?  Have you been challenged to tithe?  Has any trained, modeled and prepared you to share your faith?  The list goes on and on?  The Church in America is weak because she lacks fundamentals.  We buy into every lie our culture throws at us or pseudo-churches throw at us because we do not understand and apply the truth.  We don't not memorize Scripture.  We do not spend time in God's Word every day.  We do not approach life through the lens of prayer.  We do not have anyone in our lives who holds us accountable for our walk with Christ. So we easily fall for many of the deceptions Satan throws at us.  The word we often use is "discipleship", which means we are more than an observer, but we become a participant by learning from others who are more mature in the faith.  Being a disciple takes hard work and an attitude of humility, but the pay-off is well worth it.

For those who are a part of Hillcrest Baptist Church, we can offer you the opportunity to have this happen.  We have a six month ministry designed to move someone from young in the faith (No matter how long they have been a Christian) onto a path of maturity in their faith.  Six months will not make you mature, but it will give you the tools and the opportunity to begin that journey.  If you will enter into this journey and complete it, I guarantee you will never be the same.  You will become a much more effective instrument of God's plan than you ever thought you could be.  Six month may seem like a long time, but what you learn in those six months will propel you beyond where you would have been in six years doing what you are doing now.  So give me a call and let's get started on the journey of a life-time so you can become the Big Fundamental in your faith!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Shrinking Standard of Righteousness

Much has been made lately about Noah because of the movie which stars Russell Crowe.  The movie itself is far from being Biblically accurate, but the account of Noah is definitely pertinent for our day.  A quick reading of Genesis 6-9 shows that God considered the people of Noah's day as wicked and evil.  But it is evident from this account that the people didn't think they were evil or wicked.  By God's standard they were violent and perverse, but their standards they were moral and good.  They had developed a shrinking standard of righteousness and have even applied that standard to God.  So when destruction came, it was obvious that they were caught unaware that God would hold them accountable or that they even had anything God would consider wicked or evil.  The account of Noah is a reminder that in a culture filled with a shrinking standard of righteousness, God still holds mankind accountable by HIS standard.

The same thing happened in Sodom and Gomorrah:  The city was evil with grievous sin, but the residents thought they were fine.  It was normal for them to injure, molest and abuse anyone who was out after the sun went down.  It was normal for men to lust for men and even rape the men for which they lusted.  They had an incredible shrinking standard of righteousness.  We know this is true because we see it with Lot.  Though Lot knew God's standard of righteousness, as he spent more time with the residents of Sodom, he adopted their standards.  His wife had become so much a part of the culture that she didn't want to leave and couldn't help but longingly look back as they fled the city.  The account of Sodom and Gomorrah is a reminder that in a culture filled with a shrinking standard of righteousness, God still holds mankind accountable by HIS standard.

We see it in the lives of the Old Testament prophets.  They live in a culture with a shrinking standard of righteousness, people who should know better.  And yet, they worship idols, chase after pagan women, elevate divorce, indulge in drunkenness and a multitude of other compromises.  Each compromise is justified by the culture until it becomes the cultural norm.  They have a shrinking standard of righteousness and so mock the prophet who calls them back to God's standard.  Read the account of Isaiah or Jeremiah and your heart will be broken by people who should know the true love of God, but have substituted their own view of God and morality.  The account of the prophets are a reminder that in a culture filled with a shrinking standard of righteousness, God still holds mankind accountable by HIS standard.

Even Jesus saw this problem in His day:  Divorce was common, adultery was overlooked, revenge was the norm and even religious activity had become a show rather than worship.  So at the end of the sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21, He warns, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord Lord" will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven."  Jesus reminds us that God's standard of morality and righteousness is not manipulated by the dictates of culture or the politically expedient moment.  The account of Jesus is a reminder that in a culture filled with a shrinking standard of righteousness, God still holds mankind accountable by HIS standard.

Do we live in a culture today with a shrinking standard of righteousness?  It's hard to deny.  Though several studies say that over 60% of Americans claim to be Christians, we have a divorce rate of about 47%, we have more people living together than chose to get married last year, we have over 40% of babies being born out of wedlock, we see mammoth and crushing personal debt, We see millions of unborn children put to death. we see cities going bankrupt because they have overspent and misused monies they took from working citizens, we se perversion being normalized and justified, we see violence become an acceptable part of daily life and the list goes on.  Our standard of righteousness is shrinking faster than California's water supply.

So what do we do about it?  Well, we don't look to the legislators for a reverse.  Elected officials can never change the moral tide of a culture.  All they can do is pass laws that will slow down the decline.  An evil heart will move towards evil regardless of the laws.  We can't look to the media to change the tide because the media is in it to make money.  If immorality makes money, then they will give us more immorality.  They will even seek to justify this lack of righteousness in any way that is possible.

We have to be Noahs of our day.  We have to Jeremiahs in our day.  We have to be Isaiahs and John the Baptists is our day.  We must be willing to live the standard God says is righteous rather than living down to our culture's standard.  We have to be willing to repent from our sin and sinful lifestyle choices and let the Holy Spirit guide our living.  Without repentance their is now regeneration and there are plenty in America claiming to be born again who are unwilling to repent.  We can't change our culture, we can only live the call of Joshua - "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  We must be willing to be hated, marginalized and persecuted for following God's standard of righteousness.  Unless there is a massive revival in America, our culture will become more antagonistic towards those who uphold God's standard of righteousness.  Just look at who is called "haters" today and who has become the politically correct targets of ostracism and hatred.  We will either have to choose to shrink our standard of righteousness to fit in and be accepted or we will adhere to God's unshrinking standard and face persecution.  Soon there will be no room for middle ground and we will have to choose.

Once a culture develops a shrinking standard of righteousness, it is almost impossible to stop this without a cataclysmic event.  Just read the Kings and Chronicles for confirmation of this fact.  Most of those around us have already accepted the shrinking standard.  Churches now advertise the fact that they adhere to the shrinking standard and you can attend their church without any fear of hearing a message of condemnation or of God's full standard.  I have friends who will read this and bristle at what I have just written.  They have a litany of names by which they will refer to me so they can categorize me and then demonize me.  That's what happens to those who profess God's standard in a culture of shrinking standards.  Most Americans consider themselves good, moral people.  According to their standard, they measure up and are doing just fine.

Now before you think I am getting all holier-than-thou, please let me finish.  The prophets preached God's standard even though they were aware they didn't measure up to that standard.  They were reluctant to preach because they could be labeled hypocrites.  They didn't want to face the abuse and pain...BUT they realized that someone needed to speak.  They understood God's standard, even though they didn't always measure up to that standard.  Isaiah in chapter 6 of is book is acutely aware of his sin when he has a vision of seeing the Lord in His throne room.  We don't speak as preachers of righteousness (As Noah did) because are perfect.  We do it because in our sin, we have seen how we don't measure up.  We know what will happen if we continue to lower the standard and do not repent.  Those who are aware of the lowering standard of righteousness have a God-given obligation to live up to God's standard and let others know of the coming judgment.

My heart breaks to see the culture in which my sons are being raised because of how much more immoral it is than the culture of my childhood.  I long for them to have the same opportunities I had, but I know that probably won't happen.  So we try to live God's righteousness in a culture where we have become freaks and oddballs.  We pray that our children will see the joy and peace of following Christ and choose to make that their standard rather than the cultural standard which bombards them.  You  know how I feel because you have the same prayer about your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews.  May God give us the courage to uphold his standard in a culture with a shrinking standard of righteousness.

Monday, April 14, 2014

How's the Body?

This week is what we refer to as Passion Week.  This is the final week of Jesus' life on earth before His resurrection.  The Church in America will utilize this week to reach out to the lost in our communities.  Some may have  Maundy Thursday service.  Others may have a Good Friday Service.  Others may have an egg hunt and others may have a Sunrise Service.  Still others may have a musical or dramatic presentation and some churches may utilize all of the above.  There is a concerted attempt to allow the lost in America to hear the good news of the resurrection.  Easter is an incredible reminder that Jesus makes all things new.  He gives us the gift of eternal life and He brings the blessing of abundant life, both are greatly in need in our pagan culture.

At Hillcrest Baptist Church, we will have a solemn Good Friday Service on Friday evening at 7:00 and then have an Easter Eggstravaganza for the kids on Saturday morning, followed by a Sonrise Service on Sunday morning with several other churches in the community at the Rollings Hills Cemetery mausoleum.  So there are wonderful opportunities ahead for you to invite family, friends and neighbors to hear the good news about Jesus and His resurrection.

So may ask why we would utilize eggs to reach out to the community since this is a pagan tradition.  Definitely a valid and fair question, one which I continually struggle with in my own life.  We are trying to follow the Biblical mindset Paul tells us we must have when he says in I Corinthians 9, "19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."  However, we still have struggled with the use of eggs for this outreach, so we have chosen to utilize Resurrection Eggs, which tell the story of the resurrection of Jesus.  The kids will find the eggs and then redeem them for prizes.  As we tell the story of the resurrection, each child will take their egg with its contents to an adult to get a prize at the appropriate time.  In this way, we get to share the message of the resurrection with an opportunity for them to receive Jesus as Savior. 

Is this a perfect way to reach out?  Of course not.  There are no perfect methods, just a perfect message.  Some churches would find this type of outreach offensive and degrading to the cause of Christ.  They would not compromise the message of Easter with the pagan rituals so entrenched in our society.  other churches would think we were going to far to push the message of Jesus on people with the use of Resurrection Eggs.  They see any cultural opportunity to share the love of Christ as the perfect opportunity.  They aren't bound by the customs of the culture because they have been set free by Jesus.

I don't know where you fall on this spectrum, but here is what I do know:  Don't let your choice become a hammer you utilize to beat up other churches.  We are THE body of Christ.  Trust the each church has prayed, sought God's direction and is trying to fulfill the Great Commission.  Don't fall into the terrible trap of arguing with or berating other churches.  The Body of Christ does more to damage itself than the gates of Hell ever does.  It is sad to see well-meaning Christians who utilize social media to find fault with other churches or pastors.  When our lost friends see and hear our comments, they view us as hypocrites.  Just because we don't agree does not mean we should run another ministry down.  The world will do a good enough job of that.  Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be one as He and the Father are One.  Where we live, there are plenty of lost people around.  If all of our churches were filled ten times on a Sunday, we still would only be reaching about 1/3 of the population.  So why fight over the method of trying to reach a lost and dying world?  Why not support and celebrate what God is doing in another church?  Why not let the unifying power of the resurrection draw us together rather than using our own wisdom to push us apart?  May this Resurrection weekend be one where the Body of Christ truly supports each other and make a concerted effort to share the ultimate message of hope and grace.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Entice Me to Watch Your Team

Growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, we didn't have many opportunities to see professional sports.  Okay, we did have a minor league hockey team, the Greensboro Generals.  It was always fun to watch them play, especially when they played their hated rivals the Charlotte Checkers.  Then there was the Carolina Cougars, who played in the American Basketball Association, but they were based in Charlotte and had only a few games per year in Greensboro.  We had minor league baseball and got to see a few players who would eventually be in the majors.  But we had no NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB team within several hundred miles.  Then I move to Louisville, Kentucky where once again there was no professional sports franchise.  We could drive up to Cincinnati to watch the Reds or the Bengals play and there was the minor league Louisville Redbirds, but not many choices.  Then I move to Honolulu where professional sports could only been seen on the TV and the biggest draw in town was the UH football team.  Then I moved to the Big Island where we even had trouble finding professional sports on the TV.

Now I live in the Bay area and have a plethora of choices.  We have the San Jose Sharks, the Golden State Warriors, the 49ers and the Raiders (If you still consider the Raiders to be a professional franchise).  But the best season is baseball season because we have the Giants and the A's.  We also can got to San Jose to watch the Giants A team, or drive to Modesto to watch the A's A team or to Sacramento to watch the A's AAA affiliate.  So this past Friday, with all of these teams, the only one in town was the Oakland A's.  So I took Thaddeus and two of his friends to watch them play.  We got a little wet waiting for the park to open because of some rain and then got to watch players warm up.  Then the players went inside the clubhouse while the grounds crew tried to prepare the infield.  The PA announcer told us the game would be delayed and then fifteen minutes after the game was scheduled to begin, the PA announcer told us the game was cancelled.  Our tickets would be good, but only for the make-up game.  Our parking pass would also be good, but only for that game.  What a let down.  The A's did absolutely nothing to entice me to come back and watch them play.  Why not make our tickets good for ANY A's home game, if there were seats available?  Why not give us a coupon good for a free hot dog at the next game we attended?  Why not have your players come out and sign autographs for thirty minutes for the fans who had braved the weather?  Why not do something that would make me want to come back?  It made the A's organization appear to be "bush league" at best.  With the many baseball options available in the Bay area, the A's have now become my last resort.  The Giants cost more money, but their organization  does a much better job.  Of course, the minor league teams cater to the paying public and allow you to be more personal with the players.  Why would I go back to the A's when they did such a shoddy job with this last game?  There are so many choices that I don't have to be limited to only one team.  What will you do to entice me to spend my money and watch your team?

It reminded me of a search I did back when I was a teenager.  I grew up in the church and so giving my life to Christ at age 10 was a very natural thing for me.  There was an emptiness in my life and Jesus was the one who could fill that emptiness.  However, when I got into high school, I began to wonder if there wasn't more out there and if I could be wrong about Jesus.  So I went on a search of other major religions to shop around and see what they had to offer me.  I didn't tell anyone in my family or any of my friends and definitely not my Youth Pastor and others in the church.  I wanted to see if another religion might be more attractive to me.  So my search began with a religion in which a few of my friends were involved, Mormonism.  I read and asked questions, deciding that this was definitely a religion for males.  I could eventually be god of my own planet if I just followed all of the correct teachings and dictates of the church.  However, there was just some theology that was out of whack with reality:  Dark skinned people were cursed by God, women would be eternally pregnant, Jesus and Satan are brothers, there are three different heavens and the "lost tribe" of Israel being the inhabitants of the Americas.  Plus, I didn't know if I could follow all of the rules.  Next I researched Catholicism and even went to mass.  However the mass was in Latin, which I don't speak or understand, but everyone else there knew when to stand, sit and kneel.  I left feeling like I had been to a meeting where everyone is an insider and the outsiders just have to figure it out.  I also wasn't sure I wanted to be involved in a religion that could excommunicate me and then I would lose heaven.  I also wasn't sold on the infallibility of Pope and knowing I would have to do whatever he said.  My next attempt was Islam, which definitely was another male dominated religion.  Several professional athletes had become Muslims and changed their names, like Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali.  This religion had these five pillars of their faith that you had to practice consistently.  I asked a friend of mine who was Muslim if I could check it out and he told me that if I ever converted to Islam, I could be killed if I didn't faithfully follow the teachings.  Man, that sounded a little intimidating and I wasn't sure fear was the best motivator for faith.  I also began to research and see what countries which were Muslim were like and how they treated people.  I didn't see much freedom, but a lot of power, destruction and intimidation.  I researched Buddhism and Hinduism, but never took them seriously because I didn't know anyone who actually practice the religion.  Plus, I was sold on reincarnation because I didn't think it would be fair if I were reincarnated, but wasn't allowed to remember whether I was stepping up or stepping down.  Shouldn't I be allowed to remember every one of my previous lives so I wouldn't make the same mistakes?  I also wasn't sold on a plethora of gods everywhere and having to appease each one of these gods.  That seemed a little primitive for me, so I didn't choose them.

Now before you think I decided to follow Christ because I had no other good options, please know that there were two factors I could never shake as I investigated the claims of other religions.  The first factor was the religion factor.  Religion is man's way to explain God or make a way to God.  All of the other religions I had studied gave a set of tenets which if I followed correctly would lead to Heaven the Celestial Kingdom, Nirvana, enlightenment or whatever the pay off was.  It seemed like they all put man in charge rather than God being in charge.  They came across as very self-centered and not very God-centered.  I kept coming back to Ephesians 2:8-9, which says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, though faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."  Christianity didn't give me a list of rules to follow or a way to earn Heaven.  It came from the perspective of my sin keeping me from God, so God came to me.  I could fool people and follow the teachings/rules of a religion, but in my soul, I knew I had evil in me.  Even if the actions were proper, I had thoughts that weren't very proper.  Christianity was the only religion that offered a satisfying solution for my soul.  When I had received Jesus as my Savior, there had always been a peace given to me when I prayed and confessed my sins to God.  It was like God was always giving me another chance because He knew I would never make it on my own.

The other factor I could never shake was the resurrection factor.  Each of these other religions had human leaders and each of these leaders had died.  Of course, Jesus had died too.  But He didn't stay dead.  He rose and then ascended to Heaven.  I just could never shake the fact that Christianity was based on this incredible truth.  When Jesus died, Pilate, the Romans, the Jewish leaders, the disciples, the women and a host of others knew where His body was buried.  All the opponents of Jesus had to do was produce His body to disprove Christianity, but they never could.  The best they could come up with was the explanation that the disciples had stolen His body.  That doesn't seem very plausible because the disciples were hiding out, in fear they would be the next ones put to death.  Why would they risk going out into public, taking on some guards at the tomb, rolling a huge stone away to steal the body of Jesus?  We also know that these men would end up dying because they taught and preached that Jesus had risen from the grave.  Would they really die for a lie?  I figure one of them, in the midst of being tortured and threatened with death would have given up the hiding place for Jesus' body.  But they didn't.  Why did this not happen?  There was only one explanation:  There was no body because Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into Heaven.  I just couldn't get past this fact about Jesus, even as I was on my quest.  The resurrection is proof that Jesus conquered sin, death, Satan and Hell.  I would never be able to do all that through pious observance of religious tenets and good works.  Jesus offered me what no other religion could offer me.  He offered me forgiveness for my lack of goodness and a free pass into a Heaven I could never earn.  With all the other religion choices I had around me, only one made sense.  Only one was focused on God's activity rather than man's activity.  Only one was God-centered rather than me-centered.   Only one offered peace by receiving a gift rather than works to earn peace. My private search had come to an end and I decided to live my life as an offering of thanks to the God who had given me more than I ever deserved.  that one decision has had a profound impact on my life and made me the man I am today.  I shudder to think what I would be like today without the guidance and forgiveness of Jesus.

How about you?  There's a plethora of choices in front of you.  Examine the life and claims of Jesus in light of the claims of other religions.  Jesus said that He is the way, the truth and the life, so as you examine His claims, You will be led to the same conclusion I reached:  Jesus is truly the Savior of the world.  As we approach the Easter season, may you receive the grace and peace available from God through Jesus to anyone who will receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.