Monday, January 27, 2014

Leaving behind a Good Name

Several years ago, Hillcrest Baptist Church made the decision to clean our facilities using our own members.  In the past, we had paid to have our facilities cleaned, but there were two reasons to make this change:  #1 - Financially, we just could no longer afford to pay someone to clean and #2 - A healthy pride in the cleanliness of our facilities.  We found that the paid janitorial staff would start out doing a good job of cleaning, but over time the quality would diminish.  We wanted our facilities to look as inviting and clean as possible, so members stepped up to clean the church.  We now have four team that clean, which means we clean once a month.  It would be nice to have more teams cleaning, but these four teams do a marvelous job.

This week, it is my team's turn to clean.  So first thing in the morning, I did my part of the cleaning.  I always enjoy that time, because I can pray for so many things going on in our church, our church family and in the ministry here.  My team cleans the week after Mitch and Cari Abbott's team has cleaned.  I always enjoy following them because they do such a marvelous job of cleaning the church.  It hardly looks used when I begin cleaning because of the job they did the week before.  Mitch and Cari do their best to honor cleaning the church.  No one would know if they cut a few corners or didn't do the deep clean that they do.  That goes for all of our cleaning teams.  But they would know and they want to honor God in all they do.  So as I am cleaning and tempted to cut a few corners to get finished sooner, I have this incredible example right in front of my eyes.  So it keeps me focused on doing a good job.

In Colossians 3, Paul writes to the church and tells them, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were  called to peace.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God."  He lays this foundation of a life lived joyfully towards Jesus.  Then, he ends wit  this, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."  Amazing words by which we should live.

Whatever we do, we should do it in the name of the Lord.  Would Jesus be proud to have His name on what we have just done?  That term paper you had to write?  The way you treated your husband/wife this morning before you left for work?  The words you spoke to your child today?  The menial assignment your boss gave that was not utilizing your skill set very well?  The way you treated that hard-to-get-along-with person at work?  Cleaning your own house?  It is sobering to think that every task we undertake we will leave the name of Jesus on that task once it is completed.  So whether we are cleaning the church or singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl, let's honor the name of Jesus with the quality of our work!

Monday, January 13, 2014


This past Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Carolina Panther and advanced to the NFC Championship Game next Sunday.  If they beat Seattle, they will be going to the Super Bowl again.  There are a lot of 49er fans in the Bay area and in our church.  Unfortunately, the game started at 10:30 on Sunday morning, at the same time as Sunday School ended and morning worship began.  I wonder how many Christians in the Bay area skipped church so they could cheer for the Niners?  I wonder how many members and attenders of Hillcrest Baptist Church skipped Sunday School and/or morning worship so they could cheer for the Niners?  Actually, I don't really want to know who in our church did that because I would rather remain ignorant about that.

At the same time as the first and second quarter of the playoff game was taking place, Hillcrest was receiving her challenge for the year of 2014.  Every year, God puts a burden on my heart to share with the church as a focal point for that year.  Last year, our challenge was "Discern" and this year's challenge was quite different.  So those who missed church missed the opportunity to hear about the challenge.  Certainly, they can go on-line and listen to the sermon (The link is:  They can also come the next few weeks as we continue to hear messages about this challenge.  They can talk with other church members to find out about this challenge and get insights on the sermon.  There are a multitude of options to gain the information that they missed.  However, what can never be recaptured is the movement of the Holy Spirit as God spoke into the lives of those at church to step up and make a commitment to take this challenge.

Now, I know that not everyone who missed church on Sunday missed because they were watching a football game.  Some people missed because they were sick, caring for loved ones, out of town, dealing with emergencies and some were ministering in our extended session.  There may be no members and guests of Hillcrest who missed church to watch the football game.  The purpose of this blog is not to point out the reasons people miss church, but to remind us of how critical it is to participate each Sunday.  We never know what God is going to do on a given Sunday.  the one Sunday we miss, may be the one Sunday that God had the perfect message for us, in song or in the sermon or through a brother/sister in Christ.

Hebrews 10:23-25 tells us, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for He who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we can spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let 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". 

Even in the early church, people were already developing the habit of missing church.  The writer of Hebrews reminds the church that when they miss a Sunday, they miss an opportunity that will never arise again:  The opportunity to spur someone toward love and good deeds.  This past Sunday, if you missed church, you missed that opportunity to encounter someone who was struggling in his/her faith.  That person needed to be encouraged by you because as we encourage others, we are encouraged. 

Now, I know that some of you may be thinking, "Pastor is going off on this because he wants everyone at church to hear him.  Besides, he HAS to be at church since he is the pastor."  That is a fair criticism, but be careful that you are using that as an excuse.  Before I was a pastor, I worked at Hawaii Baptist Academy as the campus minister.  That meant I had weekends free, so I didn't HAVE to go to church.  I was a member of the First Baptist Church of Pearl City and never missed a Sunday.  That meant I would miss the second half of the early NFL game and the first half of the late NFL game, along with missing the entire ESPN Sunday night game for night church.  This was when I was a sportsaholic and not into recovery.  I also had a built in excuse for missing church because seven times a year I led camps with close to 100 students.  Those camps went from Thursday through Saturday, so I could have justified sleeping in on those Sundays after camp..but I didn't.   The reason I didn't want to miss church is because I didn't want to miss out on what God might do.  I didn't want to miss what was happening in the lives of my Sunday School class.  I didn't want to miss out of the relationships I had in the church, which I only got to be involved with once or twice a week.  I looked forward to hearing God speak through the pastor or through a friend.  I also enjoyed the encouragement I received from these wonderful saints.  Now that I am a pastor, the only time I can choose to miss church is on vacation...but I don't.  I love going to other churches when we are on vacation.  It's wonderful to show up at a church and not have to do any of the planning, but just focus on worship.  The reason I share this is because I want you to know that I would be committed to participating in church whether I was a pastor or not.

In the military, there is a term which may describe what many Christians are like on Sunday morning:  AWOL.  This stands for Absent Without Leave.  In other words, the soldiers did not have permission to be away from his unit and now the military police will be looking for him.  When we are AWOL from church, God does sent His holy MPs to hunt us down and bring us back.  He allows us to make these choices, but continues to call us back.  Some Christians are Absent Without Excuse.  They try to justify missing out on the body of Christ but they really know these are just flimsy excuses.  The rest of the world is watching us and they equate going to church with being a Christian.  So when we show up at their NFL gatherings or family get-togethers or work during church hours, they think we don't value church nor our relationship with Jesus.  This gives them one more obstacle to overcome before they take a step of faith in giving their lives to Jesus.  If you are going to miss one Sunday, let your Sunday School class know you will be gone and how they can pray for you.  Get into the habit of being accountable and make church participating a high priority.  Don't go AWOL on church because each time you miss, it gets easier to miss.  Before long, you haven't been to church in five years and have distanced yourself from the church and Jesus.  Make serving in your church a true expression of your faith in Christ and look for ways you can encourage others when you are at church.

Monday, January 6, 2014

What Profit?!

It happened again this morning.  I got up, had my quiet time and then headed to the gym.  Arriving at 5:30 this morning, I found the parking lot surprisingly more full than usual.  I walked into the gym and saw 24 Hour Fitness filled with unfamiliar faces...lots of unfamiliar faces.  Then it hit me - It's the beginning of the year and everyone has decided to get in shape.  Fresh faces all over the place, huffing and puffing, getting their sweat on.  Many of the regulars I see weren't there this morning because they take the first few weeks of the year off because of the large crowds at the beginning of the year.  In the locker room, the conversations were about how great it was to be getting in shape and how they needed to buy a membership to motivate themselves to get in shape.  For the past thirteen years I've been hearing these conversations.  I see the newbies come in early in the morning and go strong and hard.  Of course, I also know it will last about two weeks.  It won't be long until those muscles are sore and sleep overcomes that early alarm clock.  They will decide that 5:00 or 5:30 is too early in the morning to work out, so they will come later.  A few will stick with it, but most will be gone within the month and life will get back to normal.  It's always fun to try to guess which ones will actually stick it our for more than a few weeks.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate these people more than you know.  They pay for one, two or three year memberships but will rarely use that membership.  They keep my dues low because they are profit for the gym...People who pay for the gym but don't utilize the equipment or facilities.
This morning just kind of caught me off guard.  I am usually prepared for the newbies, but they came early this year.  It must mean the economy is in better shape.  Jesus warned us about being like these newbies in our commitment to Him.  He tells the parable of the soils in Matthew 13.  The farmer scatters seeds and some fall on the hard ground and don't spring up.  Those are the ones who hear about Christ and just have a hardened heart to the message.  Oh, they think they have it all figured out.  The see the hypocrites in the church and decide Jesus can't be real because of those hypocrites.  Or they look at politically active Christians who speak out in favor of God's standard and they label those Christians as haters, intolerant and bigots.  Or maybe the hard hearts are those who have been burned by the church of by Christian parents.  They want to journey with Christ, but fear gets the best of them so they find a comfortable way to distance themselves from Jesus.  There is another soil in which the seeds fall and that is the rocky soil.  The rocks keep the soil warm, so the seeds sprout quickly, but die just as quickly because they have no roots.  These are the ones who get emotionally excited about following Jesus, but they don't get into God's Word daily.  They love the experience of church with the music, lights and relevant talks.  But their faith is shallow and they drop out as quickly as they started.  There is a third soil, which is the soil with thorns.  The thorns grow up with the seed and chokes the plant out.  These are the ones who want to follow Jesus, but are too connected with the world.  They see all the "good" things their pagan friends have and the partying they do, so they just can't let go.  They want to go bar hopping on Saturday night and then come to church on Sunday morning.  They don't want to offend any of their pagan friends, so they keep their faith to themselves.  Before long, they get sucked into the pagan world that they needed to leave.  They meet a "good" guy instead of a Godly guy and move in with him rather than waiting for a Godly man who will have the integrity and treasure her enough to marry her.  They get drawn into trying to make house payments, car payments and so they have to work overtime or work two jobs.  The world has choked out the seed in their lives.  Just like the newbies at the gym, they start out with good intentions, but the long haul is more than they bargained for.  It's just too difficult to stay faithful to Christ.  So they justify their compromise and jump back into a lifestyle in which they are more comfortable and has less resistance. 
Then there is one final soil - The good soil.  The seed falls here, grows and bears fruit.  These are the newbies who stick with their desire to get in shape.  They become part of the early morning crew and become a familiar face.  These are the Christians who realize that following Jesus is a lifelong commitment.  They are the spouses who decide to stay married no matter how difficult life becomes.  They are the servants in the church who are committed to the long-term growth of others in the church.  They are the workers who invest their energy into a project and make sure the project is done the right way.  Those are the followers Jesus wants.  He isn't looking to be popular with the crowd nor does He care about the bumper sticker or fish emblem on our car.  He cars about a heart which is transformed by the Holy Spirit and hands & feet which are obedient to His leading.  He is looking for those who will be His regardless of the pressure from a pagan culture.  These are the ones who bear eternal fruit, who have made an impact on eternity.  They rarely get praised or have the spotlight shine on them.  They simply desire to the be the servants Jesus wants them to be.  No applause from man is needed, just a "Well done good and faithful servant" from our Heavenly Master will suffice.
In Ecclesiastes 9:11, Solomon makes this observation:  "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, not does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned:  but time and change happen to them all."  This is written by Solomon at the end of his life as he turned away from God and was lost in a funk of compromise and sin.  His point is that we all will face difficulties and nothing can keep pain from our lives.  On that point, I would agree with Solomon.  I would also agree that the race is not to the swift, but often to the one who keeps running.  A steady pace is more important that sprinting quickly and then stopping. 
My prayer for you in 2014 is that you will decide to personalize your faith.  You will decide to keep doing that which honors God, even if you are the only one in your home, neighborhood, school or office which is making that decision.  My prayer is that you will bear fruit.  Don't be profit for the world, but bring a profit to eternity.  Allow God to utilize you thoroughly as your life reflects your commitment to Jesus!