Monday, September 18, 2017

Be Rather than Do

"Esse quam videri"...  To be rather than to seem.  To actually live out what you profess rather than just trying to act the part.  That is the state motto of North Carolina. Being from North Carolina has always been a source of pride for me.  You can see the motto on the state seal.  I was shaped by the people and culture of that state and felt like I was given a foundation for adulthood and life.  The state motto summarizes a great philosophy of life.  It may not be as catchy as some other state mottos, like "I Lead", "Manly deeds, womanly words", "We dare defend our rights", "The people rule" or "Ever upward", but it encapsulates an idea sorely lacking today.

When I look at the church, our challenge is to BE the church rather than DO church.  Today, it's not easy being the church.  So many who claim to be followers of Christ spend lots of time broadcasting the faults of the church.  Their time is often spent critiquing the church rather than being the church.  They don't participate in the church and have a multitude of reasons why they are not being the church.  They can tell you things that happened years ago and sound so very intellectual in why the church is no longer a place for them.  It seems the church just doesn't measure up to their high standard that their Jesus has set.  Yet these same people have never planted a church that would show us what this standard looks like.  Many in our culture also like to evaluate a church by her ability to entertain.  If the church doesn't thrill their senses, then they move on until they find one that can give them what they are looking for.  Others have been going to the same church for years and years and are opposed to the church ever changing.  When you walk into the church, you feel as if you are in a different world, and not an inviting one.  So it's not easy being the church because the church is constantly critiqued by those who aren't saved and those who claim to be saved.

The problem boils down to this:  We are trying to DO church rather than BE the church.  When we do church, program and activities become the driving power.  When we are the church, ministering to others is more important than the size and scope of a ministry.  When we do church, we become stagnant and structured.  When we are the church, we are flexible and are led to do the unexpected.  When we do church, the sermon and the worship service is most important.  So the sermons, pastor, music and flow of the service become focal points.  When we are the church, the Holy Spirit leading us to support, encourage, pray for and minister to each other is more important.  When we do church,, survival of the church becomes paramount.  When we are the church, reaching the lost world becomes paramount.  When we do church, our own priorities become more important.  When we are the church, the priorities of Jesus overwhelm our own needs and desires.  The church need to be rather than to seem.

A great example of that was this past Sunday at the El Sobrante Stroll.  With 10,000 people at an event half a mile from our church, we had the opportunity to be the church rather than do church.  Many of you did the unthinkable - You skipped church so you could minister at our booth.  Hillcrest did an unchurch thing by having a booth open while our worship service was taking place.  Many of you wore your Hillcrest T-shirts to church because you were going to minister at the Stroll once church was over.  You donated your time and candy to connect with our community.  Being the church means we go out into the community with the love of Christ.  We don't go because we will have tangible results.  We go because we are called to be the church.  Jesus told us in Matthew 28 that being the church meant going out into the world to make disciples.  Rather than expecting the world to come to us, we engaged the world on their terms.  How exciting was it to have our booth set up just a few booths away from Satan's Sons and Hells Angels?  Rather than being afraid of the culture, we embraced the opportunity to be light in darkness.  The smiles on the faces of the people who played our games, received New Testaments or tracts was a reminder that being the church is more important than doing church.

So this week, as you are out in your world - Be the church.  Live Jesus and preach Jesus.  Take a moment to listen to those around you, to encourage them and give them hope.  Invite them to church.  Invite them to Jesus.  Go out and actually be the church.  Be rather than seem!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Message to a Younger Me

Yesterday was Mother's Day, a day to celebrate the impact our mothers have had on our lives.  The sermon I preached was about Samson's Mom (A woman whose name is not even recorded in the Bible but who gave her son all he needed to succeed).  The focus of that sermon was to learn the lessons God is trying to teach us through out mothers.  Even in Sunday School, we had a mother tell our class that when we please our mothers we are also pleasing God.  No Mom is perfect, but in trying to honor them in how we live, we honor God with our lives.  There is a lot of truth in that, but it isn't always easy to obey our mothers.  When we reach those teenage years, we want to spread our wings and make our own way in life.  Moms are gifted by God to see the possible mistakes and bad choices, so they let us know these things.  It can feel like Mom is trying to keep us from growing up or even nagging us.  That is never an easy place to be.

As I finished the preparation for that sermon, I thought back to the struggles I had in listening to my Mom.  If you were to ask her, she would tell you that she talked more to the back on my head than my face because I was always heading out the door.  She would be right.  Looking back now, I should have stopped and listened to the wise counsel of my Mom, but I thought I had heard it all from her.  I would tell my younger self to not be in such a hurry to get away from home and to pay more attention to the counsel God was giving me through my Mom.  I would tell my younger self to remember the love, care and passion Mom had put into raising me.  I would tell my self of all the sacrifices I now see that she made and tell my younger self to show more appreciation and gratitude.  Had my younger self done a better job with listening, my life would have been more productive and filled with less unnecessary drama.

This reminded me of an article I read written by David Robinson, NBA Hall of Famer.  The article was focused on what he would have said to his younger self.  Here is the link to that article.  I would suggest you read it before you go any farther:

Now, what would you say to your younger self?  What changes would you have made in your younger days so that you would have been more productive and successful.  Unfortunately, that information won't help us, but we can learn from the past and let God change our future.  Paul gives us directions for this in Philippians 2:13-14:  "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."  As followers of Christ, today is always a new day.  We need to move beyond the accolades of the past, the failures of last week and the sin that keeps us beaten down.  We can't change the past, but God has a better future in store for us.  So heed the wisdom from God's Word and let God help you be the man or woman He desires you to be.  Then your future self won't have to write a letter to your today self!

Monday, April 24, 2017

One More Time

Dwight L. Moody as known as one of America's greatest evangelists, but he didn't start out that way.  His father died when he was four years old in 1841.  his mother was left as the sole supporter of nine children.  So at a young age, he was sent off to work for room and board.  In the mid 1800's this was quite common, so when he turned 17, he moved to Boston to work with his uncle selling shoes.  He began to attend church and was led to Christ by his Sunday School teacher.  He then moved to Chicago to start a church in the slums, but that church burned during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  Most in his congregation lost everything and he was only able to get away from the flames carrying his Bible and his reputation.  This was a turning point for him as he realized he should be preaching on a wider scope, so he moved back to Massachusetts and began a career as an evangelist.  He preached throughout Europe and America, preaching to more than 100 million people in his lifetime.  What if Moody had given up as child because of the intense poverty?  What is he continued to chase his dreams of amassing a fortune selling shoes?  What is he had given up on ministry after the fire?  Fortunately for many in eternity, he was willing to follow Christ one more time.

Life will always place obstacles in our path.  Even as followers of Jesus, we will have obstacles.  We should be prepared to even face more obstacles because we have chosen the path of most resistance.  We will face the unseen pressure from the spiritual world because the enemy wants to keep us silent.  If he can keep us discouraged, he can keep us silent.  If he can keep us busy with earthly activity, he can keep us quiet.  If he can keep us upset or frustrated, he can keep us quiet.  If he can keep us disconnected from our church family, he can keep us quiet.  Though the enemy wants those obstacles to distract us, God wants to utilize those obstacles to build our faith.  He wants us to trust Him in the midst of chaos and confusion. 

In Proverbs 3:5-6, the Bible reminds us to "trust in the Lord with all our heart and do not lean on our own understanding.  In all our ways, acknowledge Him and He will make our paths straight".  Notice, He doesn't promised to make our path smooth, easy or down hill.  He promises to make it straight.  A straight path allows us to see the hazards of that path, it doesn't remove those obstacles.  God will not only let us see those obstacles, He will give us the strength to endure and overcome them.  Jesus even promises to be with us until the end of the ages.  So we will have company on our journey, not matter how difficult the journey.

God also provides us with a support team, much like getting tech support for our computers.  This support is known as the Church.  He established the church as His body in which He is the boss and in which He will move.  The strength to go "one more time" is found in the support of our church family.  We share our struggles in Sunday School and are surrounded by friends who love us and want us to be successful.  We share a prayer request via e-mail and get the unseen support of the power of prayer.  We can actually have a human set of eyes and ears to listen to our struggle as we share with a brother or sister in Christ.  Sometimes, we just need an embrace without words to strengthen us to get up just "one more time".  So make sure you are involved in the body of Christ consistently so you can give and receive support.

If Moody can continue after losing everything in a fire, we can continue.  All God wants us to do is to try one more time!  Just for one more day, get up and go at it again.  Keep loving that spouse that is distant or angry.   Keep caring for that child who is stubborn or bitter.  Keep studying Algebra, even though it doesn't always make sense right now.  Keep working hard at that job that seems like a drain and a waste of time.  You can do it, with God's help.  Just one more time!

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.

Monday, February 13, 2017


My wife and I have two children:  a 7th grader and a 1st grader.  For a multitude of reasons, we have chosen to homeschool our sons.  Most of the time, when we tell someone we homeschool, we get the same incredulous look.  It's the look that says, "You seem so normal, I didn't know you were one of THOSE kinds of people."  You see, most people have bought into the greatest myth of homeschool misunderstanding - Homeschool kids are not socialized.  I used to get upset at that look, but now I have to keep from laughing because most homeschool kids have much higher socializer skills than public school kids.  Almost all homeschoolers are involved in some type of co-op, which serves as a wonderful support for the parents.  Our co-op has a class day every Monday from 9:00 until 3:00 with over 60 kids ranging from three years old to seniors in high school.  So our boys are learning to socialize with and relate to  kids who are younger and older.  They have wonderful role models in how to study, treat others and live.  They also get to be role models for those who are younger.  We go on field trips with families from our co-op, have parties, Have play dates, etc.  Because we homeschool, our kids can finish their work by 1:00 and have the afternoon to get together with their homeschool friends.  (If you would like to know more about our co-op, you can go to: My sons are also involved in sports, church and clubs, so they are socialized with a variety of kids and adults.  Most homeschool parents I know do not have to search for socialization opportunities, but have to limit the amount of socialization activities because their kids have so many opportunities.  In contrast, most public school kids spend their days with their own peer group, rarely interacting with kids who are several years younger or older.  They leave home early in the morning, get home in the afternoon and then have homework to complete before they can go and spend time with friends.  So their socialization is focused on just one age group rather than a wider variety.  So when people ask me about the socialization my homeschool sons get, I have to keep from laughing because of this marked contrast.

I wish followers of Christ were as concerned about their "socialization" with the church as people are amount my homeschooled kids.  I see too many Christians who have found too many ways to compromise Sunday mornings.  Our culture certainly doesn't help this because Sunday mornings have lost their place of value as a time of worship.  Youth sports now play their games on Sunday mornings.  Families plan gatherings on Sunday mornings or want to meet for brunch because their schedules are so busy during the rest of the week.  Professional sports have begun to impact Sunday mornings, unless you live on the East Coast.  And even now, the pregame shows start on Sunday mornings.  Employers no longer see Sunday mornings as time to protect, but will schedule their businesses to be open.  Many Christians live such busy lives that Sunday morning is their "only day to sleep in and get rest".  The pressures in our culture to avoid church and do something different on Sunday mornings has become intense and will only increase.   Yet, rarely do we hear Christians talking about the connectedness they need with their church families.  Church has become a convenience rather than a necessity in the American Christian circles.  Rarely do we even talk about having to tell an employer "No" or not play on a travel team or not attend a family function because we want to be in church.  I have found that church participation becomes the first thing many Christians will sacrifice.  Trust me, I have heard every excuse in the book.  "I don't need to be in church to worship God".  "I meet with a group of Christians during the week and that is my church."  "I got burned by the church and got sick of all the hypocrites."  "I missed a couple of weeks and didn't hear from anyone in my church."   "I don't need someone telling me how to be a Christian."  "God knows I really want to be there, but if my kid is going to get a college scholarship, he has to be at..."   It's too bad we don't have the same burden for the socialization in our faith.  I just find it sad to hear people so concerned about my homeschooled kids, but so inattentive to the same issue in the church.  We cut ourselves off from the very people who want to pray for us, encourage us and see us do well.  We also cut ourselves off from being able to pray for the church family, encourage them and see them do well.  We almost become a visitor to our own church.

I am very aware that church participation does not necessitate faith in Christ or growth in our faith.  However, I also know that in our culture, people equate our salvation with our church participation.  When we compromise Sunday mornings, we tell those around us that our salvation isn't such a big deal.  If we don't value church participation, they won't think we value Jesus.  Our co-workers, families, classmates, teammates and neighbors ARE watching.  They are evaluating our priorities to see if Jesus is something worth investigating.  Church participation becomes the stepping stone to discuss salvation with them.  They will test us, but once they see our resolve, they will have a respect for us and the church (Even if they are antagonistic).  The moment we compromise church participation and then justify it, we have lost the opportunity and privilege of sharing Christ with those who are aware of our decision.    However, when we are resolved to have a high priority on church participation, our lives get easier.  We are no longer pressured by others because they know we won't be coming until after church.  The key, then,  is to make this decision BEFORE the pressure arrives.  If we have already made a decision about church participation, then when the temptation arises, we already have our answer.  It's first, but gets so much easier.  God wants us to be "socialized" spiritually - To meet with fellow pilgrims for worship, Bible study, prayer, accountability and encouragement.

Hebrews 10 puts it better than me:  "And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards 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."  So reevaluate your priorities and make your connectedness with the family of God on Sunday mornings a top priority.  When the Day arrives, you will be glad you did.