Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"I'm Just Kidding"

Why is it that we have to learn lessons painfully for them to make an impact on us?  I like to kid and joke with people.  If you give me a hard time, then I'm going to give it right back.  I often find that this allows us to be more human and then talk about more important things.  But many people are hurting by that kind of joking, even though they don't show it.  I had a friend confront me about this very thing many years ago.  He was hurt by the things I had said to him in jest, even though he was doing the same with me.  His heart was much more tender than mine and while he didn't show it, my words were serving to make him feel betrayed and broken by me.  I was stunned and had to face the reality that my joking was a source of pain or irritation to others.  That is a painful lesson for me and one that I have to have repeated to me.

I know I am not the only one who does this.  We often say hurtful things, then mask it with, "I'm only kidding" or "bless his heart" or a multitude of other phrases.  Most of the time, we don't really mean to hurt anyone, we are simply enjoying the moment.  We find something that seems humorous and we bring it up.  While others may be laughing, we don't think about the person who may be crying on the inside.  We never think that we might just have broken the heart or the spirit of someone who was struggling with a damaged soul.  Maybe they grew up in a home where they were never encouraged and never knew if their parents were ever proud of them.  Maybe this person just experienced some painful rejection this week and our words sound like more rejection.  Maybe this person has always battled having a low self-image and has masked it behind humor.  Maybe this person is afraid of emotional/spiritual intimacy, so they keep others at a distance.  The bottom line is, we never really know what someone is going through in their personal lives.  If our conversations simply stay on a surface level, we will do more harm than good.  We forget that sticks and stones do break our bones, but words destroy our spirit.  And once those words are out, they can never be taken back.  We will never see the tears we cause, but those tears are real.

Ephesians 5:3-5 puts is this way:  "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."  Those are extremely strong words written to those of us who claim to be followers of Christ. 

James 3:5-6 reminds us, "Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by Hell."

Technology has made it easier for us to be critical with our words.  We send out a scathing tweet about an anonymous category of people because someone just did something we didn't like.  We posts messages of Facebook that seek to run down and find fault with those who hold a different view than our own.  We deride people who have taken an oppositional position from us without caring about the demeaning words we use to describe them.  We send a text that we think is humorous to someone, but it is really hurtful to them.

This morning, the group of pastors I pray with weekly were discussing this. One of the pastors had a parishioner leave church vowing never to return because of this joking and jesting.  Something was said to this person as a joke, but it was hurtful.  I wonder how many more people have left the church because something was said to them in just, but the words broke their hearts.  They probably never said anything to anyone.  They just left and never came back and now will never go to any church again because they don't want to be hurt.

Would you begin to examine the words and you say and the manner in which you say them?  Would you vow to have deeper discussions with people, rather than just talk about surface stuff?  Would you seek to make amends to anyone you may have offended?  Would you be the one to use your words to build up people rather than find fault and tear them down?  This is a much more difficult road because we would rather feed the flesh than put ourselves at risk.  But our desire should be for our words to bring healing and encouragement.

Perhaps we can allows Psalm 19:14 to be our guide:  "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."

Monday, October 5, 2015


It has been almost a year since I last posted on a "Sip from the Well" and did not plan to write another blog for a while, but this past week a handful of people asked me why I don't post any more.  So after praying about it, I decided it might be time to write again.  However, I make this caveat:  The "Sip from the Well" is intended for the members of Hillcrest Baptist Church.  This doesn't mean it may not benefit anyone who wants to read it, but it is geared towards a specific audience.  On Sunday, we may have something happen in church or during the sermon or in the life of one of our members.  I may devote one blog to an issue that those not attending Hillcrest may find confusing or offensive.  Just remember the context of this blog is to help benefit the faith of those involved at Hillcrest Baptist church.  How, having given the appropriate disclaimer, on with this week's Sip.

I grew up in a household where there was only one college for which your could cheer:  Wake Forest.  Growing up as a die hard Wake Forest fan, I have a soft spot in my heart for the underdog.  So two weeks ago, when Wake played the University of Indiana (Another college with a lackluster football history), I held out hope that we would come away with a victory.  Alas, it was not meant to be as the Demon Deacons fell to the Hoosiers.  So this past weekend, these two underdogs took on two top dogs:  Indiana played #1 Ohio State and Wake played #5 Florida State.  Indiana came within a few plays of upsetting the nations top ranked team.  Wake came within a pass of tying Florida State, but the pass was intercepted in the end zone with 20 seconds to play.  Valiant efforts were put forward by two overmatched teams.

For the past four hundred years, the Church in America has enjoyed status as a top dog.  The American experiment has been predicated of people of faith in Christ and the laws of the land have reflected this.  The Church has had favor in the eyes of the law and our government to a very great degree.  Churches have been protected and had favored status when it came to property and tax decisions.  This has actually been a huge anomaly for the Christian faith because throughout most of her history, the Church has been persecuted and maligned.  In most of the world today, being a Christian makes you a minority and can cost you your life.  Muslim countries and countries with dominant Catholic populations have consistently tried to silence New Testament Churches.  Most Americans in my generation have no idea what true persecutions looks like because the authority the Church has held in our history.

What a difference ten or twenty years can make?!   We now see the pendulum begin to swing away from the Church being a protected entity to the Church being a persecuted entity.  Most people who live in the South would strongly disagree with me on this point because churches are in abundance.  However, where we live in California, the local governments have turned antagonistic towards the Church.  There are not churches on every street corner and many churches what used to be on street corners have found their properties taken by local governments using eminent domain.  Churches do not generate tax revenue and in these trying financial times, tax revenue drives local municipalities.  Only one church I know of in the area has been able to construct a new building and that was done after  exorbitant "fees" were paid at every juncture of the construction project.  In our area, only 4% of the population goes to church on a Sunday morning.  So the Church has become an underdog in our area.  It's just a matter of time until this flows to the rest of the country.

Before you think I am whining or complaining, I am actually celebrating.  For far too long, the Church in America has been an impotent messenger of the Gospel.  With our declining influence, we have utilized the latest trends and tried all types of methods to make our church services more inviting to those who are not "regular attenders".  We have researched methods of church growth, which usually just shuffle the deck and bring Christians from other churches to our church.  The numeric growth of the Church has been stagnant and in decline for many years.  I don't think having better programs will end the decline.  I don't think trying to adjust our standards to the standards of the culture will end the decline.  I don't think lower the Biblical views on life will end the decline.  I don't think using slick marketing strategies will end the decline.  I don't think starting new small groups will end the decline.

So what will end the decline?  This is the reason we are studying the book of Acts on Sunday evenings because the keys are found in simply imitating the early church.  Throughout the book of Acts, there are two factors which increased the growth of the church.  Those two facts are really not programs and can't be programmed by the church.  They are not slick, marketing tools.  They are simply the keys the Holy Spirit brought about in the body of Christ.  Those two keys are needed today, if our church is to make a difference in the world.  Here are the two keys:  (1)  Prayer and (2) witnessing.  See?  I told you they weren't slick and definitely not earth shattering.  They cost no money, but involved dedication, passion and a deep reliance on the Holy Spirit.  I know, prayer and witnessing don't really grab our attention.  There must be something else we can do.  The book of Acts gives us prayer and witnessing as the foundational pillar that God gives the Church to affect change and impact the world.

Can Hillcrest implement this strategy?  That has been my fervent prayer for the past few weeks.  The underdog church in America needs to reevaluate the vision and strategies she has been using for the past few decades.  Our culture is looking for something real and genuine.  The upbeat music, light shows and talks by styling pastors are not fooling anyone.  Our culture wants to see lives that are changed.  They want to see people with peace, joy and faith that sustains them in trying times.  God is moving us to underdog status so we will stop relying on the weapons of the world and begin to rely on God Himself.  The ancient world was impacted by the power of God released through His people praying.  That world was impacted by uneducated people sharing how Jesus had changed their lives.  The same can happen in our communities and neighborhoods if the Church will embrace her underdog status and begin to truth the One who is greater in us than the one who is in the world.  Will you become devoted to prayer and witnessing, trusting in the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do?  The world is waiting to see it!