Monday, March 27, 2017

Consistency and Calm

Only the hardcore baseball fans will be familiar with the name "Steve Dalkowski" because he never made it to the major leagues, even though he threw the baseball faster than any other human.  He pitched in the minor leagues from 1957 until 1966 before the advent of radar guns to measure pitch velocity.  However, best estimates are that he could throw at least 110 miles per hour, maybe even as fast as 125.  As a measure, only 11 players in the major leagues last year could throw the ball 100 MPHs +.  The fastest pitcher in 2016, was Aroldis Chapman who amazingly threw the ball 105 MPHs.  Chapman can't even come close to throwing with the same velocity as "White Lightning", Steve Dalkowski, but Chapman is an All-star making millions of dollars.  Why did Dalkowski never make it to the big leagues?  There is a one word answer:  Control.  He was also one of the wildest pitchers ever with pitches so erratic they could end up in the stands.  Over his minor league career, he average 13 strike out per nine innings, but he also averaged 13 walks per nine innings.  Today, a pitcher is considered wild if he averages 4 walks per nine innings.  Dalkowski had a game in which he struck out 20 batters, but he also walked 18 batters.  Without control, all the speed in the world won't matter.  A pitcher must consistently find the strike zone or he will not be successful.  So after nine years in the minor leagues, his baseball career was over due to this lack of consistency.

In all of life, consistency is a key to success.  Our culture value lots of flash, but flash never lasts.  I remember a singing group back in 1979 called "The Knack".  They recorded the song "My Sharona" which was the number one song of that year.  Critics were saying they would be more popular than the Beatles had ever been and were preparing us for the fan-mania which would go along with this musical group.  Alas, it was never to be.  The groups second album made a reasonable number of sales, but the third album was a bust.  Most of you born after 1980 have never heard of this group because they never had lasting fame.  We see musicians and actors like this come and go.  We see fads that are all the rage, then fade away quickly.  We call it having your 15 minutes of fame.  The Internet and YouTube have made it easy for someone to rise in popularity and fall just as quickly.  What is trending today will be history tomorrow.  Consistency is difficult to maintain in today's every-changing market.

As a pastor for over 25 years, I have seen it in the church.  I have seen church growth fads that are encouraged as the answer to what ails your church.  Your church needs to be seeker-sensitive.  No, your church needs to be purpose driven.  No, your church needs to be a Simple Church.  Every week, I get phone calls from Christian telemarketers telling me about the latest training series which is endorsed by this famous Christian and will instantly transform our congregation into more devoted followers of Jesus and will increase attendance dramatically.  At every conference, there is a speaker who can tell us how to grow a church into a large church if we just follow a certain program.  Churches become divided because they aren't sure which direction they should take.

I have also seen it with church members.  They first come to Christ and they are on fire.  They have magnificent growth and then they flame out.  They fall back into the same life from which Jesus rescued them.  They realize that being consistent isn't always a pleasure and takes energy and discipline.  Or someone goes through a traumatic event and they recommit themselves to Christ.  They tell everyone they are coming back and want to find a place to serve.  But once the pressure is off, they go back to the same old ways.  If everyone came to church who told me at a funeral that they were coming to church, Hillcrest would have three services every Sunday morning.  Consistency is difficult to maintain.

Two keys to consistency are found in the Bible which will help us be more consistent.  The first is found in 1 Corinthians 1:7-9, which says, "Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."   Jesus makes a promise to us that He will keep us firm till the end.  We simply need to walk with Him every day.  We can't let our focus drift to all of these other distractions.  Moment by moment, we trust Jesus in each detail of life.  We pray over those details and put our future in His hands. 

Image result for walk with Jesus

A second key is discipline.  I Timothy 4:7 tells us "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales;  father train yourself to be godly."  The decision to be disciplined in our lives is our decision.  The Holy Spirit will give us self-discipline, but we must take the first steps.  There will always be an miss not neglect daily study of God's not fall back into old patterns.  So we have to make the decision to start and complete our journey of life with Jesus.  no one else can force us to be disciplined.  No one can beg or cajole us into being disciplined.  God certainly won't force us, but He will give us the strength.  We have to evaluate where we are headed and where we would rather be.  Then we must make the choices that will allow this to happen.

Consistency is a key to keeping calm no matter what comes our way.  What is your stumbling block to consistency?  Go after that stumbling block in the days, weeks and months ahead.  You will look back with a grateful heart and mind if you do!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Are Your Recognized?

Below are a few famous logos.  Do you know the company just by looking at the logo?

The answer to our quiz on logos is this:
Top logo - McDonald's
Next - Toyota
Next - Apple
Last - Zambia Airlines

You probably had very little trouble with the top logo because McDonald's restaurants are all over America and the world.  They also have commercials and advertisements.  McDonald's has done a fantastic job in branding themselves so people know the brand.  Most of you probably were able to guess the Toyota logo and Apple logo, although Apple has done better in branding their name (Like in the iPad, the iPod, the iMac or the iPhone).  Very few of you were able to guess Zambia Airlines unless you have actually flown on that airline.  It's just not a famous brand and Americans would not be as familiar with Zambia Air as with United or American Airlines.  For a company to survive, the more well-known their brand is, the better their sales should be. 

For the past thirty years, I have had the same vehicle.  Many of you have ridden in it.  Those of you in Hawaii may have ridden it, maybe even when it was brand new.  It now has almost 290,000 miles on it and tons more memory.  Even though I live in the crowded Bay Area, there aren't many of these classics on the road, so people know me by my truck.  When I lived in the small town of Kamuela on the Big Island, I was known by the truck I drove.  My goal is to continue to drive this truck until I can no longer get parts to fix it.

Having said all that, how does our told recognize followers of Jesus?  I guess we could all get the same tattoos or wear clothes with Christian symbols or verses on them.  We could all wear crosses around our necks, but that is common among so many in our culture.  When I see someone wearing a turban, I know they belong to the Sikh religion.  When I see a woman in a burkha or a head scarf, I know she is a Muslim.  But there really isn't any specific clothing that allows people to recognize us as Christians.  We certainly pray that the way we live our lives helps people know we are followers of Christ, but even moral people may have stronger values than we have. 

Today, the United States has become a pagan country, one in which Christians have very limited influence and power.  The more secular our country becomes, the more marginalized followers of Christ become.  Yet, the greater opportunity we will have to be a light to the world.  The greatest way to be recognized as a Christian today is to faithfully participate in church.  I know that sounds archaic and 1950's ish, but it really is true.  Sunday has been overtaken by our secular world.  Kids play sports on Sunday mornings, families have gatherings, kids are expected to do their homework then and staying up late on Saturday night will all cut into the sacredness of Sundays.  The greatest testimony in our world is to let nothing come between us and our participation in church.  When we tell sports teams or family members we will be at church instead of with them, get ready to some stunned looks.  There are so few followers of Christ who have made church a top priority that you may get looks that are akin to seeing a unicorn.  What kind of look will you get when you tell them that you also go to Sunday evening ministries?  In this way, we are recognizing that our Lord is more important than overtime, travel teams, family gatherings and late nights.

I know, someone is going to bring up the "hypocrite card" because it is true, you can come to church every Sunday and still live like the world.  however, I believe if you are reading this post, you are wise enough to not fall into that trap. 

The book of Hebrews 10 puts it this way:  "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching".

Be committed to your Savior by being committed to your church.  Be recognized as someone who values the body of Christ more than a short-lived rush.  Get involved in your church, serving and loving.  Once you make Sundays a sacred day, you will never want to compromise again.  This type of faithfulness can help keep us from becoming secular Christians and develop into faithful followers of Jesus.  See you on Sunday, if not before!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Yes, you are an expert!

Last week, our church had to have several trees removed which were dead and posing a threat to our building and folks who came to church.  We contacted Hercules Tree Service to come and remove the trees.  The owner, Rich Cabrera, had his son play on my soccer team, so I had confidence in his expertise.  However, I was a little worried when they showed up without a crane.  One of the trees split at the base into two trees, with one side growing above our playground.  We have a fence around the playground and we have the play structures under the tree.  I asked him if he has going to need his crane and he confidently told me to not worry that he had things under control.  So they got busy cutting the tree.  Rich climber to the top of the tree, secured his lines and began to remove limbs on the easy portion of the tree.  So I went to my office and came back when it was time for his to cut the branches over the play structure.  I watched as he carried up some straps with him into the tree.  He fastened a rope around the tree, then attached one strap to each branch he was going to cut.  The other end of the strap he attached to the rope.  Then he cut the limbs, one at a time.  Each limb would simply slide down the rope into the parking lot, away from the play structure.  He knew his job and he did it in such a smooth and precise manner.  I was definitely impressed and recommend them if you live in the area and need tree work done.

As I watched his expertise, my mind wandered (As it often does) to what this says to us as followers of Christ.  It hit me that we are experts in eternal life.  Let me explain:  I was clueless in trying to figure out how Rich would remove the tree without damaging our property.  I don't do tree work, so how could I possibly know about those straps.  BUT Rich has been doing this for almost twenty years, so he knows all the tricks of the trade.  As followers of Christ, we forget that most people in our sphere of influence have no idea about salvation and eternal life.  Most of them probably think if they do enough good works, they will get to Heaven.  most Americans feel that if the good they do out weighs the bad, then they will gain admittance to Heaven (If they even believe in Heaven).  However, you and I know that our works only earn us death.  Romans 6:23 tell us that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus.  We turned from self and turned to God's grace.  We knew Heaven was unattainable on our own merit, so we became covered in the righteousness of Jesus.  We received the greatest gift of all - Salvation.  We made that life-changing decision and it has affected everything in our lives:  Our jobs, our schoolwork, our marriages, our parenting, our sports, our free time, our money, etc.  We have become experts because of the experience we have over the years in following Jesus.  So, you are an expert. We have the confidence from a life that has been transformed by Jesus! 

The world is waiting to hear from you.  Like we talked about on Sunday, we need to interject God's Word into our conversations.  We need to give people an opportunity to hear about eternal life.  So stop using excuses to keep quiet, and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to tell others about Jesus.