Monday, February 1, 2016


"No distrust made (Abraham) waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised."
(Romans 4:20-21)

God called Abraham at age 75 to begin a journey that would end not only in a new physical location (far from his hometown), but also as the father of a "great nation."  He was also childless at this time, by the way.  It took 25 years for that promise to be fulfilled.  TWENTY-FIVE YEARS!  Wow. 25 might not seem like too long when you're young... but Abe was 75 already!  Genesis records a number of twists & turns in his storyline along the way.  But Abraham made it.  He persevered!  And Paul, when he wrote the letter to the church in Rome, lifted Abraham up as an example of faith for us.

Paul shows us how Abraham didn't waver in his trust of God.  He gave glory to God, being "fully convinced" that God was able to do what he had promised.  Paul doesn't say Abraham thought it was actually possible for him to become the father of a great nation (at age 75+!)... he said that Abraham believed GOD WAS ABLE to do it.  It's a HUGE difference.

Palmdale UMC has property to eventually build on.  15 acres worth!  We still owe ~$700K on just the land. Building seems light years away right now.  But is God able to see this project through to completion?  ABSOLUTELY!  That's where I need to be focusing my energy and prayers.  Thanks Abraham.  Thanks Paul.  Thanks God!

Mixed Emotions

[From January 30, 2016]

"So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy..."
(Matthew 28:8)

On that very first Easter morning, two women came to Jesus' tomb expecting to find a body.  It wasn't there.  Instead, they found an angel who told them two things: 1) "Don't be afraid!", 2) "Go tell the disciples that Jesus is risen, and he will meet you in Galilee!"  Matthew tells us that they left "with fear and great joy."  So they were excited, but also afraid.  Interesting that they'd have these seemingly opposite emotions.  We often feel like we need to be 100% behind something to support it, don't we?  This may provide another model for us.

We have a property we've purchased here at Palmdale United Methodist Church.  15 acres.  We still owe about $700K on that loan.  We can't start building anything on it until we pay that off first.  I'm new to the church.  It wasn't my vision to buy the land.  But it is exciting to think about what could become of it!  Then again, $700K is a LOT of money.  I'm honestly a bit worried about how we'll get all that money.  And yet, I'm excited about the possibility.  Could it be that Jesus will meet me "in Galilee" (ie. somewhere in this in-between set of feelings and emotions I have?)  Maybe I don't have to be 100% sure of where the funding will come from before I set out in faith!??!

PRAYER: "Fear and great joy."  I definitely have that, Lord!  Thank you for calling me to Palmdale UMC.  It's definitely outside my comfort zone when it comes to raising this kind of money.  But with you, all things are possible.  So shepherd me as I walk with you through this.  Don't let my fear overtake your call on my life and the life of this church.  AMEN.

That's all?!?

[From January 29, 2016]

"Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to he chief priests and said, 'What will you give me if I betray him to you?' They paid him 30 pieces of silver.  And from that moment, he began to look for an opportunity to betray him."
(Matthew 26:14-16)

It was Dante who conjectured of all the regions of hell, the one at the deepest core would be reserved for Judas Iscariot - the betrayer of Jesus.  Indeed, Judas has quite a black mark on his name because of his actions during Jesus' final week on earth.

Scripture (the book of John) tells us that Judas was the treasurer of the disciples.  He handled the money.  We don't know if they had much money between them.  Did they pool their savings when they started?  Did they get donations along the way?  Were there wealthy benefactors?  We're not sure.  But Judas must have been good with finances & numbers.  Is it surprising, then, to discover that it was money that became his downfall (or at least his temptation)?

30 pieces of silver.  It was worth about 120 denarii.  A denarius was a day's wage.  So this was 1/3 a year's salary.  Did Judas negotiate that figure or just take their first offer?  Was he that desperate for money, or just disillusioned with Jesus (or as his role as a disciple?)?  One third of a year's salary doesn't seem like it's that much, actually.  Especially for something as big as betraying the Savior of the World!

I've heard a pastor once say that whatever our strength is - whatever we're best at or most interested in or excel around - THAT has the potential of becoming our downfall.  Like Judas and money.  As I reread this story today, I wondered... what would I be most likely to betray Jesus over?  I don't think it would be money (though the $1.5B Powerball Lottery drawing earlier this month started me fantasizing about acquiring incredible wealth).  Would it be fame & celebrity?  Though I like to be liked (who doesn't?!) I've never really sought to move in those circles.  Sex seems to be another lure that many pastors succumb to.  Maybe it's because we're in the business of loving others & empathizing with folks... is sexual indiscretions this taken to the extreme?  Actually, LOTS of people succumb to this.  That's no excuse, though.  I pray that my marriage with Jody and our love for each other will keep me vigilant in this department.

I don't know what I might betray Jesus for.  Hopefully nothing.  But if one of Jesus' closest friends could do it, I'm not immune.  How tragic that Judas gave him up for a mere 30 pieces of silver... and then once he got it, realized his mistake.  He never even "enjoyed" the "reward."  (Which tells me that the lure of temptation rarely satisfies.)

Lord, I want to enjoy you, not temptation.  Keep me loyal and faithful.  AMEN.

Let it go.

[From January 25, 2016]

"Then the disciples approached and said to him, 'Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?'  Jesus answered, 'Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.  Let them alone; they are the blind guides of the blind...'"
(Matthew 15:12-14a)

The religious leaders and Jesus often didn't get along.  Usually, it was because of something Jesus said that offended them.  They also would try to trip Jesus up with questions and rhetoric, but usually he rebuffed their attempts to discredit them.  Which made them even more upset.

One time, Jesus' disciples noticed this exchange, and told Jesus how offended the religious leaders were.  I can relate.  I was raised to be polite and respectful of others.  I tend to avoid direct confrontations with people who I have a difference of opinion.  But Jesus wasn't worried.  He told the disciples to leave them alone.  "Every plant my heavenly Father hasn't planted will be uprooted."

That's really wise advice.  Don't kowtow to the feelings and opinions of those in power.  Don't worry about offending when speaking the truth.  If it's not of God, it won't last... it won't be of eternal value.  AND YET... I must be careful that I'm being "planted by God," so I won't be uprooted, myself!  I can't assume that just because I'm a pastor (or even a Christian) that all of my actions/thoughts/feelings are of God.  May God help prune from me that which is not planted by him!

A blessed dichotomy

[From January 19, 2016]

"We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have over flowed in a wealth of generosity on their part."
(2 Corinthians 8:1-2)

People love to be around those who are generous.  Initially, I'd venture, it's because we all like to be on the receiving end of generosity.  Who doesn't?!?  But a generous spirit is contagious... captivating... inspiring!  When we spend significant time around generous people, we can't help but want to be generous, too.

The apostle Paul lived a life of generosity.  He reflected the life of Jesus, whose very nature embodied generosity.  In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul lifted up the church in Macedonia as another example of a generous lifestyle.  Though he doesn't give details, he acknowledges they've been through a tough time... a "severe ordeal of affliction."  And though they had little financially, they responded generously and with joy!

The three times I've been to the Philippines, I've been struck by this same dichotomy: extreme poverty (in some areas) surpassed only by their extreme joy... and generosity!  They've taught me so much about what it means to be a Christian!  I want to live into their example of faithfulness.  And I want to help others live into that blessed dichotomy, too.

For Building Up

[From January 15, 2016]

"So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church."
(1 Corinthians 14:12)

I was watching a short video on Facebook yesterday.  Steve Harvey was talking to the audience after filming an episode of FAMILY FEUD.  He was encouraging them to find whatever "gift" God has blessed them with ("everyone has been given something they excel in by God!"), and dare to "jump."  Dare to be bold, take a risk, and use that gift to the fullest.  Don't sit on it.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, is talking about God's giftings, too.  "Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts," he writes in 14:1.  He then lays out the difference between speaking in tongues (a "just you and God" moment) and prophesy (bringing an encouraging word to others).  Midway through the chapter he calls them to use their gifts "for building up the church."

We're all good at something.  It may not be a "traditional" gift that most think about in regards to church (preaching, teaching, serving, etc.).  But what a focus: do whatever you do well, in order to build up others (ie. the church).  How can I help my congregation re-envision how they can be a blessing to others in the unique ways God has wired them?  That's my call as a pastor.  Lord, help me do this! 


[From January 11, 2016]

"Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and Stewards of God's mysteries."
(1 Corinthians 4:1)

"So besides preach, what else do you do as a pastor?"  It's a question I'm asked from time to time.  (Nothing like having a job that only requires you to work a couple of hours on Sunday morning, right?!?!)  Well, there's prepping for the sermon; worship planning; pastoral care & administration; committee and special project work; prayer; leadership development; stewardship & discipleship planning; staff oversight... just to name a few of the things I do besides preach.

But Paul lists another item in the job description of pastoral leaders: "servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries."  The servants of Christ title isn't new.  Jesus talked frequently about a life of servanthood.  But the second part surprised me: stewards of God's mysteries.  Indeed, God works in mysterious ways!  And God's ways are not our ways.  Whether it's the mystery of Holy Communion, the power of baptism, the incomprehensible gift of grace (or many other aspects of God's love and nature), as a pastor I'm to "steward" this.  To care for it.  Share it.  Protect it.  Highlight it.  I'm to make sure others in my care are fully aware of and experiencing God's mysteries.  

It all starts with scripture.  God continues to speak through words penned by humans (inspired by God, of course) written thousands of years ago.  Wow.  May I continue to be a good steward of that.