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.