Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Spread the Fame

"At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee."
(Mark 1:28)

It's the start of Jesus' ministry. He's begun to call some disciples (Simon, Andrew, James & John)... and then went to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Not only was his teaching impressive, but he healed a man "with an unclean spirit." Just after these few things, Mark tells us that Jesus' "fame began to spread."
Which got me thinking... in order for fame to spread, people have to tell others (duh!). I doubt there were any newspaper reporters present in the synagogue. So those who were at the synagogue to learn that day had to have been the ones who "spread the fame." I'm sure the guy who was healed told others. Probably those who were his friends did, too. Did the new disciples?
What about us? The tendency for many of us today as Christians is to keep our faith just between us and God. Not impose our beliefs on others. Keep it quiet & simple. Oh sure, we may invite a few people to church with us from time to time... but do we "spread the fame" of Jesus on a regular basis? Probably not. As this story shows, however, Jesus' fame WILL SPREAD. It's only natural. Why not by us?!? Why not?
PRAYER: Lord, You have done marvelous things in my life. I know this to the bottom of my core. Help me to thank you by "spreading the fame" about you to others. All the time. AMEN.

Friday, December 26, 2008

All Things

"That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea & Samaria."
(Acts 8:1b)

Calamity strikes. Persecution hits the early church. The believers are scattered. Crisis abounds. The early church had become such a connected, powerful group of believers - as they lived together in community, sharing whatever was needed. Now that idyllic way of life is gone. Gone! The group is scattered. They must constantly beware of outside persecution. Constantly.

That could very well have been the end of it. But something amazing happened. The author mentions in verse 4, "Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word." Without any intentional "strategic plan," the early church has launched a global evangelistic outreach program! The crisis of persecution has necessitated the believers to spread out. And along the way, buoyed undoubtedly by their powerful early grounding in Christian community (Acts 2-3), they eagerly (and very effectively) share the gospel. Wow. Thanks, God!

It's amazing how God can "use" difficult, challenging, and even unpleasant circumstances for the good of God's Kingdom! Would the early church have launched out into the surrounding regions without persecution? Maybe. But probably not as quickly, that's for sure! What "unpleasant, challenging, or difficult"circumstances am I facing in my life now? How might God be using that (if I'm willing, of course) for the good of the kingdom?

PRAYER: Lord God, You are Sovereign, indeed. You can see the BIG PICTURE far beyond what my mortal eyes (and heart) can see. Help me to trust You fully, no matter what. Help me to believe the promise of Romans 8:28, that all things work for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. AMEN.

Shared Ministry

[NOTE: I know it's been a while since I've entered a blog. Sorry. I did two last week, that's it. But didn't even have time to post them. I'm on vacation now & should be VERY REGULAR in updating! Merry Christmas!]

FROM December 19, 2008...

"And the 12 called together the whole community of disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves 7 men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word."
(Acts 6:2-4)

The early church was growing rapidly. A small controversy arose in the community: the non-Jewish widows seemed to be neglected in the food distribution (it was a communal living arrangement). The 12 disciples (connected to Jesus) realized they had grown too large to maintain a hands-on approach to everything. Their solution? Set apart seven men who can specialize in this (and other areas of) ministry. Not just anyone, but men of faith, good character and wisdom. That would free up the 12 to focus on teaching, preaching, and prayer.

When I first read this,k I thought the 12 disciples were being a bit snobbish ("We're neglecting the Word to wait on tables!") - like serving wasn't the same as preaching. Clearly, Jesus did both. But as I reflected a bit more, I changed my heart. I see it now as a case of shared ministry. God has gifted each of us with different gifts, passions and abilities. Those who have the gift of service wouldn't grumble about using that gift (on the contrary, they'd be loving it!)... while others, who weren't gifted there, probably would grumble. So the growth crisis in the early church helped them discover the power of shared or diversified ministry takes!

I am grateful for Yvonne who serves as my Pastoral Assistant, taking some of the administrative responsibilities I have as pastor, freeing me up to focus more on preaching & teaching. I still see a need to do more with pastoral care, though. Not necessarily me, personally, but as a church. Nevertheless, I'm sold on the idea of shared ministry.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for the gifted people you place within a church. Help us to recognize, equip and encourage the different gifts among us in shared ministry. AMEN.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Apartment Anger

"And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the room."
(Nehemiah 13:8)

What an interesting story I found today! The priest Eliashib, in charge of the Temple facilities, used his position of authority to set up an "apartment" in the temple for one of his relatives. It used to be an offering room - where grain, wine and oil offerings were kept. Eliashib set up house for Tobiah, like it was no big deal. But when Nehemiah found out about it, he freaked!! (Personally, I thought he was simply being a bit over-zealous.) Then I realized two important facts: 1) Nehemiah 13:1 says the book of Moses (Deuteronomy) forbids any Ammonite or Moabite from entering the Temple. Tobiah was an Ammonite! So he wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. 2) Tobiah was one of the two "out of line" officials that were causing problems for the Jews who returned to Jerusalem (see Neh. 2:10)! So here's a guy who's openly hostile to the Jews, and he camping out in the holiest building in Israel - a place he's forbidden to be in!!! No wonder Nehemiah freaked! He tossed Tobiah & his goods out, then disinfected the whole place.

So what deep spiritual insight surfaces here? How can we apply it to our lives? (pause) I honestly don't really know. Maybe this is about being careful to follow God's rules and not bend them - even for family. Maybe it's about holding people accountable to what's right. Maybe it's about treating God's home with respect & reverence. (I think I'll let you figure out which one of those, or others, fits you today!)

PRAYER: Thank you for people like Nehemiah, who have a passion for Your house & holiness. Help me hold people (including myself) accountable to doing what's right. (And thanks for showing me this cool story, God!) AMEN.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

An eye-opening meal

"When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight."
(Luke 24:30-31)

It's Resurrection Day for Jesus, but not everyone knows that! Two of his followers are on their way out of the city, depressed over Jesus' death and the news of his missing corpse. While they're walking, an unknown man comes alongside them and they strike up a conversation - about Jesus! The stranger seems unaware of the "Jesus Saga," so they fill him in. He, in turn, leads them in a Bible Study about the Messiah. They invite him in for a meal and lodging. He accepts. While eating, he picks up bread... blesses it... and gives it to them. Immediately, "there eyes are opened" and they recognize this stranger is really Jesus himself!

I'm sure Luke wanted us to make the connection between the breaking of bread that night with the two, and the breaking of bread with all the disciples during Jesus' "Last Supper." It's not that the bread itself was "eye opening." No. It's what that bread represents - Jesus' broken body! Jesus' sacrifice. Jesus' willingness to give up his life so that others might receive eternal life. That's powerful!

We, in the church, have the opportunity to experience Holy Communion on a regular basis. Many times we (I!) simply remember that Jesus is with us. That's great. But the broken bread of communion is so much more. It's sacrifice. It's love. It's a willingness to give up life so that others might live more abundantly. It's for me... and the entire world - if we'll accept it.

Wow... now that's eye-opening!

PRAYER: Jesus, you not only gave of yourself completely for a broken world, but you call me to follow in your footsteps. Of course I cannot be a Messiah. But I can give myself away for those in need. Help me remember the eye-opening sacrifice you made every time I share in the bread and wine of communion. AMEN.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The power of Observation

"In the m onth of Nisan, in the 20th year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was served him, I carried the wine and gave it to the king. Now, I had never been sad in his presence before. So the king said to me, 'Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the heart.'"
(Nehemiah 2:1-2)

Various women over the course of my life have taught me the importance of noting when a lady has done work on her hair (new cut or style, perm, etc.). So I'm not "trained" to ask, "Did you do something with your hair? It looks nice!" The power of observation.

In the 2nd chapter of Nehemiah, the king of Babylon has this power - and he observes that his wine steward is sad for the first time ever! When asked about it, he mentions it must be "sadness of the heart." A sadness that's separate from just feeling ill. Great observation skills! Nehemiah would cautiously share what was paining his heart, and the king would eventually send him "home" to Israel to repair the gates of his beloved city of Jerusalem (which was his concern).

This challenges me to be even more observant of people and their emotions. Who knows how god might use me when I inquire of another's spirit?! The king in today's story was able to be a blessing to Nehemiah, and indirectly, to all of Israel. All because he made an observation & asked about it. It's as simple as that.

PRAYER: Help me be aware & observant of others, Lord. And then remind me to ask people when things seem a bit out of place. Maybe you'll give me a chance to be a blessing to someone in need!?! AMEN.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Psalm one thirty one

[Normally I begin each entry with a scripture verse or two... but this particular psalm is a relatively new favorite of mine, and I want to post it in its entirety!]

"O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with its mother.
My soul is like the weaned child that's with me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time on and forevermore."
(Psalm 131)

I first "discovered" this psalm in seminary, during finals week, as my New Testament professor (Dr. Neil Hamilton) asked us to journal about it. I think it's especially appropriate during the Christmas Season... we tend to get caught up with a huge "TO DO" list and sometimes that becomes quite overwhelming... or life in general overwhelms us... or we let "the worries of this world" get the best of us. This psalm remind us to slow down... center our soul/spirit... and be content to rest in the Lord, putting our hope and trust in Him.

'Tis the season! AMEN.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


"For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel."
(Ezra 7:10)

Prior to having our first child, I rarely (if ever) wrote, read, or used the word "Ezra" in a sentence. That changed when we gave our son that name in 1994. Now it's one of my most-used words! So I get especially excited in December when the Bible reading schedule for scripture journaling comes around to the book of the OT character with the same name: EZRA!
Today I read a verse that not only spoke volumes about the biblical character named Ezra, but also became a prayer-focus for me as I raise my son named Ezra. Chapter seven, verse ten says that Ezra "set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it..." Now I'm not suggesting that I want my son to become a biblical scholar, or even a pastor. Like any parent, I want my child to fulfill whatever life-plans God has designed for him. But I do hope and pray that he will set his heart on God, God's truths in scripture, and seek to live it out in his life! (Heck, I want that for me, too!!!)
PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for Ezra (and Emily, too!). May he always set his heart on You, Your Word, and a relationship with You. Encourage, strengthen, inspire, support, challenge, and bless him. AMEN.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Things that make for peace

"As (Jesus) came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 'If you, even you, had only recognized on htis day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.'"
(Luke 19:41-42)

Jerusalem. The Holy City. So much potential! But on this day, it brought tears to Jesus' eyes (and not the "touchingly good" kind, either). Jesus knew his days were drawing to a close... and the majority of the people will miss out on the fact that He is there to bring them new life, hope and peace. That's why He laments that they've failed to recognize ("on this day") the things that make for peace.

We live in a world where violence is far too often the norm. I wonder if Jesus is weeping over our cities today? Is He lamenting the fact that we're failing to recognize the things that make for peace?!? The people of Jerusalem missed that JESUS was the "things that make for peace." Jesus! Have we domesticated Jesus so much today that His radical message of enemy love, suffering servanthood, and amazing grace fail to have the impact He intended? Hmmm....

PRAYER: Peace. Peace. Peace. Teach me. Open my eyes to see. Lead my heart to follow You, Jesus. AMEN.

Total Wellness

[From Saturday, 12/6/08]

"When (Jesus) saw (the 10 lepers), he said to them, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were made clean."
(Luke 17:14)

Jesus encounters ten lepers one day who beg for mercy (keeping their appropriate "safe distance," of course). They recognize him and call him by name. Did they anticipate healing? or merely want alms from the master? The Bible doesn't say. It does, however, note that at Jesus' command they went to show themselves to the priest. AND AS THEY WENT they were "made clean." In their obedience to Jesus' words, they were healed of their leprosy. Physically, their bodies were restored. What a gift!

But the story doesn't end there. One of the 10 returns to Jesus, praising God. A Samaritan, no less (not held in high regards by most Jews at that time!). And Jesus makes one more proclamation: "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." He was already healed. But in his thankfulness and praise, something else happened. He was "made well." His spirit was restored. He moved beyond mere physical healing and achieved (no, was given as a gift!) total wellness. Wow.

PRAYER: Oh God, as I pray for people to be healed, may I also be praying for their total wellness. And remind me daily that I need a spirit of thankfulness in all that I do! AMEN.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A surprising intercesison

"...so that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his children."
(Ezra 6:10)

Great story! So the core group of Israelites who've returned from 70 years of Babylonian captivity and reestablished themselves are now ready to start rebuilding the temple (their first job had been to repair the broken-down walls of the city - a daunting task!). But neighboring leaders (including "the governor of the province Beyond the River") are upset! So they go over to the work team, ask to see their credentials & their work permit. The Israelites give them a verbal history of their captivity & return. Then the neighbors write a letter of protest to the current King of Babylon, telling him all about this & asking him to verify its validity (what a bunch of whining snitches!). The king does the research, and finds that it's all true! So he sends a letter back to the complainers telling them to "cease & desist" bothering the construction crew. Not only that, but they're to pay for all of the building costs out of the tribute they would have sent to the King of Babylon! (How cool is that!?! They wanted it stopped. They ended up footing the bill!)

But the most powerful repercussion of the "tattle-tale" letter is that the king asks the Jews to offer sacrifices & prayers for him and his children! He's no "believer," but he's eager to have their prayers nonetheless! This illustrates something I've come to learn & believe - that just about everyone, even if they don't go to church or consider themselves believers, is willing to have others pray for them. Bart Campolo talked about this principle when he established Mission Year (www.missionyear.org): ask people what you can be praying for them, and they'll almost always respond! Whether they believe in God or not, people seem to covet prayers.

So now my challenge is to remember this more often... so I can be bold enough to ask, "Is there anything I can be praying for you or your family?" Who knows what king might need it!?!?!

PRAYER: Lord, what a gift we have in prayer! You open Yourself to us in communication & intimacy all the time. But may we not selfishly keep our prayers focused only on us and our needs. May we (may I) openly ask people what I can be praying for... and then pray!!! AMEN.

PS. What can I be praying for you? Post them in comments below!


[From Thursday, December 4th]

"But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out a robe - the best one - and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate...'"
(Luke 15:23)

We all know this story: Two sons. One father. Younger son demands his inheritance (before Dad's dead!). He leaves. He blows it all. He comes home with his tail between his legs. Father welcomes him with open arms. Older brother's miffed! Dad: "Was lost; Is found! REJOICE!" The end.

Today when I was rereading this story, however, one word stood out: QUICKLY! It's the first word the Father said when his wayward son returned home. "Quickly!" Now, if we didn't know the story, we might think he wants the son to quickly apologize... or quickly explain his shameful behavior... or even quickly get out of his father's presence. But no, he wants to quickly dispense grace: restoring his son to prominence (robe, ring, sandals = full acceptance as a member of the family!). Which is quite amazing, given the embarrassment his son has caused him. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 states that a father can legally stone to death (yes, you read that right!) a rebellious and wayward son! Wow. This father, however, didn't exercise that right. He simply let his son go... then waited... waited... waited for his son to "come to himself" (v.17) and return home.

We have a lot to learn from this father, don't we? We're used to doing things quickly... but prefer quick justice and retribution over quick grace & restoration (at least when dealing with those who have hurt us!). "Make sure they're truly sorry, first! Make sure they understand the wrong they've done!" That's our mindset. Usually.

What a blessing that God is not like that, yah?!

PRAYER: You are a God of QUICKLY! Your grace & forgiveness is ready for me long before I'm ready to ask for it. Thank you, God. And help me to have a bit more grace a bit more quickly for others! AMEN.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Shepherd's job is...

"For I am now raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for the perishing, or seek the wandering, or heal the maimed, or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hooves."
(Zechariah 11:16)

God is tired of worthless leaders of his people. He resorts to sarcasm here in Zechariah 11:16 (you've gotta love a God who gets into sarcasm!)... listing all the bad qualities of those leaders:
  • They don't care for the perishing... those outside the flock! Those not connected to a life-sustaining community of faith. These will perish without guidance & care.
  • They don't seek the wandering... those within the flock who have strayed, gone off on their own. Sheep (and humans) have this tendency. That's why good shepherds are crucial.
  • They don't heal the maimed... Sheep (and humans!) get wounded in life. It happens quite often. Recovery is possible with the proper care & healing. That's not always the case when left on our own to heal.
  • They don't nourish the healthy... The healthy and strong sheep need care too! They need to be nourished to sustain their strength & vigor. The bad leaders even neglect these.
PRAYER: Oh Lord, give me the heart of a good shepherd... one who leads the way You want me to... caring for the perishing... seeking the wandering... healing the maimed... nourishing the healthy... and seeking to follow You all of the days of my life.


[NOTE: This is from Dec. 2nd]

"Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days, 10 men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'"
(Zechariah 8:23)

Don't let the current situation cloud your vision of the future, says God. Sure, it may look desolate & depressing now... but things will change! People WILL come back to Jerusalem. Not just Israelites either. People from ALL nations will come seeking me, says God. Why? Because they've heard I'm with you!

It's the stuff any pastor longs to have said about his/her congregation. That others are drawn to God because of our people. We seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. When others' lives start being transformed... when parts of our world get transformed by something the church is doing along with God... when our lives witness to the amazing grace of the Divine... then people are DRAWN to it! What a wondeful vision. But in the meantime, we can't sit back and wait for others to seek us out. WE must continue to be faithful to the calling.

PRAYER: Lord, live in and through me so others might be drawn into Your presence, goodness & mercy. AMEN.

Planned Pair-enthood

[NOTE: This is from Saturday, Nov. 29th]

"After this the Lord appointed 70 others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go."
(Luke 10:1)
Jesus has a plan... a 35 city tour! He's coming to a town near
you!! But before he kicks off the road trip, he chooses 70 followers and sends them off to "prepare" the cities for his coming.

There's a couple of insights that jumped out at me today: 1) Jesus didn't send people out alone. He could have either a) chosen only 35 of his best followers and sent them out on their own, or b) sent 70 out to 70 different cities, doubling his reach. But Jesus seemed to know they'd need a partner in ministry! Teamwork is more important than mere numbers. 2) Jesus had a strategic plan. he wasn't just roaming the countryside, traveling wherever the wind blew him. Nope. He had a plan. 35 cities he intended to reach out to. So he sent his followers there ahead of time. 3) Jesus entrusted himself and his power to his followers. He could have gone to all 35 cities without having sent the 70 ahead... he could have done the ministry himself (or at least have overseen everything in person). Instead, he trusted the disciples and entrusted his power to them. The result? 70 people came back extremely excited about the impact THEY had made for the kingdom!

So much to learn here. Especially as we get ready to possibly start a new satellite ministry as a part of Aiea UMC. Can I learn from Luke 10:1? Don't try to do everything myself (work with a partner in ministry)... have a strategic plan... and trust the leaders in the church to be involved in the actual ministry! Train them, empower them, trust them! And then watch how the passion and excitement grows!

PRAYER: You have so much to teach me, Lord. Help me to learn from your examples - especially as we consider moving ahead with the satellite ministry possibility. It's not about me. It's about You and Your kingdom - and the role you've given each of us to play together. AMEN.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good/Evil Treasure

"The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks."
(Luke 6:45)

Although I don't believe that a person is either "all good" or "all bad" (we're probably closer to a mix of both), this passage from Luke 6 causes me to ponder. Whatever comes out of a person's mouth (or out of MY mouth!) is a direct reflection of the "treasure" inside a heart. Is the treasure good or evil, generally? Jesus says we can tell by what a person says. Wow.

It was Thumper (aka "Bambi" fame) who reminded us, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." While that's good advice, we need to be looking at the "bigger picture" of our language. Most of us can curb our comments at particular points (with some people or in some situations - except maybe in traffic, right!?!). But over the long term, our "treasure" is revealed by how we speak - especially when no one is around (that blows my traffic comment out of the water) or when we're surrounded by friends (and we think it's "safe" to say anything).

Do words of life and grace come out of my mouth? I hope so. But I know that's not always the case.

PRAYER: Remove any "evil treasure" frmo my heart, Lord... so I can share Your goodness in all I say and do. AMEN.

God is great...

{from Monday, November 24, 2008}

"We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord listen and act and do not delay."
(Daniel 9:18b-19a)

Daniel is praying on behalf of the people of Israel - in all their sinfulness. He's "coming clean" with God, acknowledging all the ways they've not followed God's will. He's being brutally honest. And from that baseline of sin, he pleads for God's mercy. Then he states quite plainly that it's all because of God's grace that he can pray - and it's nothing to do with their own goodness.

This may seem quite obvious. God is great. We are not. But I think we sometimes forget it. We're not called to wallow in self-deprecation, of course. But to have an honest assessment of one's reality, hopefully bathed in humility, opens one up to the amazing power of God's healing forgiveness.

PRAYER: Help me to intercede more for the people you've entrusted to my shepherding care, Lord. And keep my feet on the ground, too, as I fall upon Your mercy, not my illusion of righteousness. AMEN.

Off the radar...

{from Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008}

"In the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea & Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas & Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the wilderness..."
(Luke 3:1-2)

Something big is about to happen. Luke the storyteller is setting it up. He lists all the big "movers and shakers" from Jesus' time - in both the political & spiritual spheres: the Roman Emperor, Tiberius... the Roman Governor in Israel (Pilate)... the local Jewish "kings" (Philip & Herod)... a neighboring ruler (Lysanias), and the two Jewish High Priests (Annas & Caiaphas). BUT NONE OF THEM WERE THE FOCUS HERE. Instead, the word of God came to JOHN. A 'nobody.' And yet, we know he became a very important 'somebody.'

This is a great reminder that God can speak to anyone! And God often chooses to work with those who are "off the radar screens" of most people. We shouldn't be surprised when God does this - it happens all the time in scripture.

PRAYER: Speak, Lord! Use whomever you will. Keep me humble enough to be able to notice your messengers. Thank you for transcending our expectations! AMEN.

Friday, November 21, 2008

River of LIFE

"On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing."
(Ezekiel 47:12)

I first heard about this amazing "river of life" at a Chris Tomlin concert. He sang a song called "Dance in the River." He told us that it was from an OT passage that talked about a holy river that gave life to everything it touched. This is that river.

What was interesting to me, however, is the fact that the river originated at the Temple in Jerusalem. Evidently, there was an underground spring that surfaced under the Temple. So while God created the water that brought life and healing, the church (temple) was the place from which that flowed. As it should be!

I just prayed for a group of 30+ people walking from my church to downtown Honolulu today. It's the 10th day in a 10-day "Walk the Talk" journey around the island on foot - to raise money and awareness for homelessness. I won't attempt to take credit for any part of this amazing project (my friend, Utu Langi, is the leader!)... but it was great to see so many from my congregation bring food last night to share with the walkers (plus a few came back this AM to make breakfast for them - as they slept over at the church!). The vision of Ezekiel is how it should be. The church SHOULD be the place where life-giving & healing waters flow. When we "get it right," this indeed happens. When we don't, it doesn't.

PRAYER: Lord, send healing waters out from our church - not just for those who come to worship here, but for ALL in the larger community & world. You are too powerful for us to keep to ourselves. Use us to bless Aiea and beyond. AMEN.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


"This shall be (the Levitical priests') inheritance: I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no holding in Israel; I am their holding."
(Ezekiel 44:28)

The prophet Ezekiel is in the midst of a massive vision of the temple in Jerusalem, being shown all the aspects & dimensions of how the rebuilt temple shall be (personally, it's kind of boring reading, to be honest). Then here in chapter 44, God gives regulations for the Levitical priests. Among the instructions come this poignant statement about their inheritance (their share of the land they'll receive, like the various12 tribes received): THEY GOT NO-THING... no property at all. Why? Because GOD was their inheritance!

At first glance it may seem like the priests get the short end of the stick. "Yea. We get God. Wow. Thanks. That's just great." Doesn't everyone get God? How is this an "inheritance"? Sounds more like a cost-savings measure! But then I thought about it a bit deeper. People at large need a place to live and a means by which to make a living. So they get allocations and inheritances. "But the priests don't need those things," says God, "because they'll have me!" God is saying that He'll be ALL they'll need! Not only that, but that His presence with them is an inheritance! The privilege of communing with the Holy One of Israel on a regular basis is indeed a gift of great value!!

We clergy can get into the inheritance/benefits race. We know we won't get rich by being pastors, but that doesn't stop us from thinking about (and lobbying for) a bigger salary, greater benefits, increased expense accounts, more money for our 401K, etc. And sure, we need to provide for our families just like everyone else. BUT... we also have an incredible gift by the very nature of our calling. We are together with God on a regular basis. Everyone can, of course. But we are intentional about it (hopefully!). "I am your inheritance," says God. "I AM!"

PRAYER: Forgive me, God for getting caught up in the quest for "more." Thank You for reminding me that You are all I need! What a privilege. What a gift. What a calling. AMEN.

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's a Generation Thing

"One generation shall laud your works to another... they shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness."
(Psalm 145:4, 7)

The psalmist writes about the importance of one generation witnessing to another generation about God. About God's works, goodness & righteousness, to name just a few. It's a generation thing. It's the responsibility of one generation to share the faith with another.

In the traditional sense, this occurs all the time in churches. Sunday School teachers tend to be "older generations" as compared to the children that are being taught. But I don't know if we see it as a generation thing, though? Kids can't teach themselves, so we plea for adults in the church to teach. But if we take Psalm 145 to heart... we can appeal to the responsibility of the collective faith of other generations!

Outside the church, however, I think we tend to gravitate toward similar generations. Meaning, we look to people our own age (or close to it) for guidance, inspiration, leadership & insight. That's fine, of course, but are we missing the gifts that other generations have to offer - both older and younger? Could it be that God is calling us to move outside the comfort zones of our own generation, to both give and receive God's witness?

PRAYER - Speak to me, Lord, through the testimony of other generations... and use me to encourage other generations to faith as well. AMEN.

Self-glorification & Luxury

[ NOTE: This is from Saturday, November 15th]
"Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great... Render to her as she herself has rendered, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed. As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so give her a like measure of torment of grief..."
(Revelation 18:2, 6-7a)

"Babylon" is seen as a woman personified here in Revelation 18... and it's time for her judgment. She will be repaid for her wickedness. But what's interesting here is the indictment: "She glorified herself and lived luxuriously." She glorified herself - looked after her own interests and did whatever she wanted to do, whatever "felt good" at the time. She focused on herself - no one else. And she lived in luxury. Wow.

In the U.S., a vast majority of us long to "live luxuriously." Nice house. Car. Clothes. Food. Toys. Travel. Entertainment. Luxury is marketed all over our culture. "You deserve the best," we're told. And we buy it. Literally! But far too often "living luxuriously" and "glorifying oneself" go hand in hand. We want the very best and are encouraged to go for it.

And yet Jesus taught about giving ourselves away for others... about becoming servant leaders... about reaching out to help "the least of these" among us. Despite everything we've heard, it's not about us and the pursuit of our own personal gain. It's about sharing the resources we've been blessed with... and giving glory to God.

PRAYER: Gracious God, you have indeed abundantly blessed us. May I not get caught up on accumulating things or acquiring wealth or living in luxury. I don't want to be self-centered or focused solely on my own self-glorification. I want to be the kind of person you need me to be. I want to give myself away for the world. I want to be like Jesus. Please help me. AMEN.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Favor & Compassion

"Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion fromm the palace master."
(Daniel 1:9)

Four young men... in a foreign land... against their will... forced to serve their new king. This is where Daniel & Co. found themselves. They were chosen as part of a group of the "best and brightest" (of the captives) to learn the ways of Babylon & commit to a lifetime of service to the king. The three-year training began with daily "royal rations" of food & wine. The only problem was this went against Daniel's Jewish dietary laws. So he asked the palace master if he could have an alternate "vegetarian menu." The storyteller says that "God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master." Excellent!

Which got me thinking... a friend of mine (who is also a pastor) was looking to acquire a new worship space for his church. After many, many months of searching & praying... they were finally close to an agreement. A really great property! But an adjacent retailer had a contractual stipulation that would not allow "houses of worship" anywhere nearby. My friend & his church prayed fervently. God allowed them to receive favor & compassion from the retailer.

I wonder how often we, as humans... as people who claim to be followers of Jesus... are faced with a potential roadblock or hurdle or challenge... and we freeze up!? WE get stopped in our tracks. 'Oh well, I guess it wasn't meant to be," say to ourselves. And yet, what if we, instead, would look to God in prayer and commit the situation to Him? What if we prayed for God to grant us favor & compassion from some entity that holds power over the situation?

All things are possible with God. We just don't trust that promise enough. All things may not be probable. But it seems like we could do a bit more in the "intercession department" (I know I sure can!).

PRAYER: Lord God, today the Cal-Pac cabinet is meeting with the Conference Board of Congregational Development to discuss the many proposals submitted this fall. Among them is our request to launch/fund a satellite ministry. Please grant us favor & compassion in the eyes of the Conference Leaders. And no matter what their decision, keep us faithful to Your calling for our church. We want to do Your will. AMEN.

"Worth their weight in gold"

[NOTE: This was from 11/12... server was down yesterday. Sorry.]

"The precious children of Zion, worth their weight in fine gold - how they are reckoned as earthen pots, the work of a potter's hand."
(Lamentations 4:2)

The temple in Jerusalem, once a majestic image of splendor & riches, now lies in pieces. The sacred stones are scattered. The gold has grown dim. And yet, there is FINE GOLD all around, if only the people could see! That gold is the CHILDREN of the city. The children, however, are being treated as clay pots - not the priceless gold they truly are.

Children continue to be a much-maligned group today around the world. Our youth group recently finished watching a powerful DVD from "Invisible Children" (www.invisiblechildren.com) about the children of Uganda - those being abducted as child soldiers, and those involved in "night commuting," traveling long distances just to sleep in a safe place at night, and not get abducted. Wes Stafford's incredible book, Too Small To Ignore, about children & poverty around the world, also speaks loudly to my heart. Here in Hawaii, Aiea UMC is involved in Common Grace, a local ministry that matches the kindness of a local church with the needs of a local elementary school (mentor/friend relationships - one hour a week!). God yearns for the children of the world to be loved, cared for, and be able to grow into their future!

PRAYER: May I ever keep the plight of children in my heart, so I can always reach out to them in love, grace & compassion... both here and abroad! AMEN.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Au Contraire!"

"Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, in order that it may go well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God."
(Jeremiah 42:6)

Be careful what you wish for - 'cuz you just might get it! We're back in Jeremiah today... and the Babylonian army is advancing on Judah. The people are scared. They ask Jeremiah, God's prophet, to inquire of the LORD for them. "We'll do whatever God says we should do!" they profess. (Sure you will.) Jeremiah prays... and 10 days later receives the answer: "Stay here! Don't flee to Egypt. Don't be afraid of the king of Babylon. I'll be with you," says the Lord. When Jeremiah told the people, however... they were SHOCKED! "No way! God didn't tell you that!" they exclaimed. "You're lying!" They ignored Jeremiah's message, and fled to Egypt.

Reading the story, it's easy to be judgmental. "How could they not trust God & Jeremiah?! What a bunch of hypocrites!" And yet, are we any different (am I any different)? We want God's direction and guidance... but too often we come with a preconceived notion of what that direction will be! Can we trust the LORD enough when God just might be calling us to do something we NEVER expected? (The challenge, of course, is making sure we hear from God, and it's not just our own desires/projections!).

PRAYER: I wnat to be faithful to You, Lord, no matter what the message may be. Keep my heart open and my feet ready to respond. AMEN.

Broken Healing

[NOTE: This was from 11/8... catching up!]

"Mortal, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh king of Egypt; it has not been bound up for healing or wrapped with a bandage, so that it may become strong to wield the sword."
(Ezekiel 30:21)

I know the focus of this passage is supposed to be God's judgment on the Egyptian Pharaoh. Metaphorically, his "arm was broken"... his power & authority damaged. And it will not return to normal, says God. No healing will come. That's the message. But I heard something else today...

I heard a word of HOPE! I heard the truth behind an injury: if treated well, an injury can heal! As painful and devastating as a broken arm may be (whether literally or metaphorically), it can return to full strength! This is a word of encouragement to those in the midst of trauma/struggles. It's a call to make sure a "broken body part" is "set" correctly - that safeguards, accountability, rest & proper healing are put in place.

Whether it's in my life, my family, or the larger AUMC "Ohana," I have a responsibility to help ensure the proper healing & recovery for those with broken "limbs." God provides the healing... but there can be healing!!

PRAYER: As painful as it may be at the time, LORD, help me to make sure all things broken can heal correctly. AMEN.

"So... what happened?!?!"

[NOTE: This is from 11/7... just haven't updated the site in a while.]

"Moreover, the word of the LORD came to me: Mortal, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him... Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you."
(Ezekiel 28:11, 17)

"You had so much going for you... but you wasted it! You abused your position and now you'll face divine consequences!" So says God, via Ezekiel, to the king of Tyre (a costal region just North of Galilee). So much promise, potential, opportunity... so much disappointment in the eyes of God.

I know this was written for a specific individual who wielded great power & influence... and God was holding him accountable... BUT (here's where it gets personal)... But this same question haunts me. With all the opportunity, giftings, responsibility and authority God has given me personally... will I be able (am I currently!?!) to be found faithful? Or will God one day say to me, 'You had so much going for you. What happened?!?"

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, as much as I love this life and the relationships/responsibilities you've placed before me, most of all I want to be faithful to You! Keep me faithful to You. Please. AMEN.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Divine Silence

"When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for almost half an hour."
(Revelation 8:1)

The first six were quite colorful: seal #1 - white horse & rider with a bow; seal #2 - red horse & rider with a sword; seal #3 - black horse & rider with measuring scales; seal #4 - pale green horse & Death; seal #5 - martyrs; seal #6 - earthquake, darkness & blood-red moon! Now the seventh (and final) seal is about to be opened. When the Lamb (JESUS!) opened it, there was silence in heaven, says the author. Silence.

Why silence? Was it just for "dramatic effect"? Maybe. But perhaps it was more about "holy anticipation." What in God's Name was about to happen, people wondered?!?! And in that silence, there was a devotion... a reverence... a divine expectation.

I also thought, "Wow, even in heaven they have 'quiet time' in God's presence!" Yet this just isn't your run-of-the-mill regular 30-minutes-of-quiet-time quiet time that so many of us are used to. You know... sitting still... "being reflective"... not talking... etc. No. This is 30 minutes of active awe! 30 minutes of anticipation! 30 minutes of wondering, "What, in God's Name, is about to happen?" What if I practiced that same kind of quiet time? What if I spent time in silence (whether it was 30 minutes or some other amount) actively anticipating God's actions in my life? I bet it would be a lot different from how I'm quiet before Him now!

PRAYER: Give me an eager anticipation, Lord, as I sit in silence before You're awesome presence! AMEN.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Heart Transplant

"When they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them."
(Ezekiel 11:18-20)

I remember a story from my Greek mythology studies (9th grade English!!?!) where a person had the power to turn whatever he or she touched into stone (or am I confusing that with the story of Midas' golden touch? Was the stone guy a Saturday morning cartoon? Or a scene from "The Chronicles of Narnia"!?!). Anyway, Ezekiel writes about the opposite of that today: the people have hearts of stone and need God's touch to turn them into hearts of flesh.

We might say "cold hearts" instead of stone hearts. Uncaring, unfeeling, unaffected hearts that are not moved to compassion or shamed into righteousness based on our actions. The people of Israel apparently weren't affected by the many sins they propagated in the temple itself - in the very house of worship that was supposed to be Holy! That must change, God said. And God wasn't waitng around for the people to "come to their senses" and willingly return to Him. No, God would take matters into His own hands and perform a "heart transplant." No more stone cold hearts. Now we'd have God-created, living hearts! Hearts that would desire to know and follow God's ways.

I think it's a human condition to need a divine heart transplant. We are easily distracted, amused, and led astray. We know what we want to do, but often can't (or choose not to) do it. We have wandering hearts far too often. It must break God's heart to see how easily we stray. We allow sin to harden our hearts over time - it happens to us all. And yet God doens't give up on us. God still gives divine heart transplants! We are saved from our own frailties, by the grace of God.

PRAYER: I so want a heart of flesh, not stone, God. Keep my mind & heart focused on Your word and Your will so I can stay in line with what you want for my life. Thank You for Your Holy Transplant! AMEN.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


"As I looked at the (four) living creatures... I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the thunder of the Almighty..."
(Ezekiel 1:15, 24)

For the second day in a row I've read a passage in scripture that describes God (or a Divine Presence) with "the sound of mighty waters." I almost wrote about it yesterday... so I HAD to write about it today!

Water is used in powerful ways throughout the Bible: Creation waters, Noah's flood, Red Sea parting, water from the rock in the wilderness, Crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land, Jonah's "deep sea" adventure, John the Baptist's "immersions" in the Jordan, Jesus' turning water into wine, and Jesus and the "Living Water" of the woman at the well, etc. But here, it's the SOUND of rushing waters that denotes a divine presence (yesterday, Revelation 1 said God's voice sounded like this, too!).

That reminds me of hiking in Hawaii to various waterfalls (especially Akaka Falls on the Big Island)... or seeing/hearing tv images of Niagara Falls... or being in Yosemite & Yellowstone National Parks! There's something quite grand about seeing might waters falling - but hearing them is something else!!! The sound is overwhelming & constant! But what about something as simple as being in the shower? Can that evoke a connection to the Divine? Sure! (If I remember while I'm in the shower).

God is often so hard to describe, explain, and experience that humanity uses words & metaphors which are familiar. [NOTE: I'm sitting here in Starbucks and a 'golden oldie' is playing over the sound system: "Into each life a little rain must fall, but too much is falling in mine." This reminds me of living in Hilo, Hawaii... and how we'd get some MASSIVE rain storms! The sound of rain hitting the tin roof is amazing! Metaphorically, I wonder if some feel that "too much" of God falls upon them at times?!?]

Bottom line: every time I hear the sound of water, I'm going to try and remember God!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

37 years!

"In the 37th year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, in the 12th month, on the 25th day of the month, King Evil-merodach of Babylon, in the year he began to reign, showed favor to King Jehoiachin of Judah and brought him out of prison..."
(Jeremiah 52:31)

Exile. Foreign land. Separated from home. It was the reality for many Israelites now living in Babylon, including King Jehoiachin, who had become King after Zedekiah's unfortunate demise (see previous entry: "Surrender?!?"). All Jehoiachin had known was exile: 37 years of it! I'm only 40... and I can't even imagine having been imprisoned for almost the entire length of my life. But that's what the King of Judah faced. Wow.

Then on the 25th day of the 12th month (I know the Jewish calendar is different, but on modern calendar this would be December 25th - Christmas Day!!!), Jechoiachin is released! He's still in Babylon, but the new King, Evil-merodach, bestows honor & favor upon him (which goes to show you can't judge a king by his name!). Jechoiachin is able to dine with the king & live a life of grace - even in captivity!

How does this connect to me? (I'm not exactly sure... I just really liked this passage!) I wonder how frustrated, depressed & discouraged Jechoiachin must have been for those 37 years? I'm sure he didn't feel very "king-like" much of that time. But that changed with a new Babylonian ruler. Which also tells me that no matter how bad things may get, nothing lasts forever. Trust in the Lord to sustain you until things change.

PRAYER: Thirty-seven years, Lord? Wow. That's a long ti'me to me. Of cours, in Your eyes, it's but a moment. I don't know of any deep theological truths from today's reading, except to be reminded to never lose a sense of who You're calling me to be - no matter what the circumstances. (And maybe to be extra-thankful for the GIFT we're given by the 25th day of the 12th month!). AMEN.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Me! Me! Me!" (???)

"I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority... he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church."
(3 John 9-10)

There's a problem in the church. THIS CHURCH, in particular. The author of 3rd John mentions the trouble-maker by name: Diotrephes. Why? First, he refuses to recognize the authority of the elder who is writing the letter (who evidently had some kind of significant influence in that particular church). Second, he does NOT have the gift of hospitality. Not only doesn't he welcome other believers who come to the church, but he prevents others from doing so! Wow. Tough guy. Unfortunately, he's not following the spirit of Jesus. The larger issue, however, is stated by the author: He "likes to put himself first."

That's a pretty good measuring stick for all of us: do we put ourselves first... or others? Do we think about our own desires & needs... our own conveniences & preferences... or Gods? If we want to follow Jesus, it's clear how Jesus lived - giving himself away for others, not preserving his own life & preferences. It's not about us. It's all about God. And God has called us to be about the needs of others. Period.

PRAYER: It's human nature, Lord, to want to put ourselves first (or maybe it's American culture?). Yet You call us to give ourselves away for others, like You did while on earth. Keep me focused on that. Help keep my eyes on You, so I can see You in the eyes of everyone. Thank you for the examples of hospitality & grace that I've seen all around me over the years! AMEN.


[NOTE: From Monday, October 27, 2008...]

"Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, 'Thus says the LORD, the god of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will only surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire..."
(Jeremiah 38:17)

The "American Spirit" is one of 'rugged individualism.' Work hard! Fihgt hard! Never give up! Never back down!! It's a spirit that pervades movies & books. We're big fans of the Underdog, too! All of this combined makes it hard to hear Jeremiah's words to King Zedekiah here in chapter 38. "If you will only surrender..." Of course, in war, there are times when surrender is the only viable options. But here, at least, it wasn't "that bad" yet, tactically speaking. Nevertheless, Jeremiah counseled the king (in secret) to surrender (note: the King eventually refused! He fled the city & was unceremoniously captured. Even his eyes were gouged out! Ugh.)

Thinking more about our "never give up" mentality... might there be times when God desires our surrender?!? We have our own plans/ideas/strategies... and often we'll "stay the course," no matter what. "Let it go," says the LORD. Surrender. Allow another force to influence what will happen to you and your life. Give in to the reality that you will not always be in control of your own life & destiny.

Could it be that God can use "foreign powers" as part of His plans? Of course! But it shaped their character in a profound way. What about MY life today? Am I bent on maintaining absolute power & ultimate control over my life? Or might I need to surrender, at times, and allow other influences to be in control? Id' like to think I'd be willing to let God use any means God needs to guide me. I'd like to think...

PRAYER: Lord, it's You, not me, in control. Open my ears to hear Your Spirit's instructions... even if it means giving up my plans for Yours. If a time comes for me to surrender, may I not be too self-righteous to follow. AMEN.

Friday, October 24, 2008


"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
(Jeremiah 29:7)

The Babylonian Exile was such a monumental time in Israel's history. It was a time of refocusing back on God and who they were called to be as a people. Just as powerful as the Exodus out of slavery in Egypt into the promised land, now Israel was moved into exile in a foreign land. Anyone who had influence or promise was taken over a thousand miles away... and although some (false) prophets said they'd be back soon, Jeremiah knew otherwise. This captivity would span close to 70 years.

So here in the very beginning, God tells Israel to basically "make the best of it." Build houses, plant gardens, get married & have children. You're going to be there for a while, says the LORD. And while you're at it, God continues, pray for the new city you live in and seek its welfare! Wow. God doesn't want them to let their bitterness, hatred & disappointment to stew inside them. No. "SEEK THE WELFARE OF THE CITY." If the city prospers, you will prosper.

If God would call His people to pray for and work for the good of a city in a foreign land, how much more would God desire US to pray for and work for the welfare of the city we've chosen to live in? How often do I pray for the city here? Not very often, to be honest. And how about "seeking its welfare?" Volunteerism, voting responsibility, helping out with projects and ministries geared towards those in need, choosing not to "talk stink" about the way things are run, etc. There are many ways I can seek the welfare of my city. But will I?!?

PRAYER: Lord God, thank you for giving me the city of Honolulu (Aiea, too!). Guide & direct our Mayor, the City Councilpeople, our State Legislators, the Governor, our police force, fire department, hospitals & medical personnel, schools & teachers, and rescue workers. Reach out to those in need through those of us who have so much. Be with us in this upcoming election, and give us wisdom & discernment as we choose our leaders. Above all else, keep the needs of my city on the forefront of my heart. AMEN.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Timing Revisited

"The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance."
(2 Peter 3:9)

"Jesus is coming soon!" It's a slogan we see and hear in and around Christian circles. The "2nd Coming" of Christ is something Christians over the ages have been anticipating - when Jesus will "return" to earth to usher in the End of the Age, and humankind, as we know it, will come to an end. (Personally, I really enjoy "this life" and am not too eager to see it end!) But just as the early Christians noted, Jesus hasn't returned... yet. This led some to question whether he would actually return or not, since it hadn't corresponded to a timetable anyone expected.

The author of 2 Peter confronts this quandary directly. "With the Lord, one day is like one thousand years and one thousand years is like one day!" Stop thinking in human time frames, we're told. God isn't "slow" in coming. We just can't see the Big Picture like God can.
But what does it matter "when" Jesus returns? This passage says it's all about grace - giving people more time to come to repentance. God wants everyone to be able to come into a relationship with Him - a life-changing, eternal relationship. Maybe instead of speculating "when" Jesus will return, we should be more concerned about connecting people to God! It's not about us at all. It's about grace!

Prayer: Your time is what matters, Lord. Your grace is what it's all about. Help me not to get too caught up on the "when" of your return... but rather the "why"... with as many people as are interested!

Monday, October 20, 2008

In One Ear?

"Stand in the court of the LORD's house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD... it may be that they will listen, all of them, and turn form their evil ways."

The people of Israel have a lousy track record (heck, all people have a lousy track, when it comes right down to it!) - they rarely listen to and/or obey God's commands. Prophet after prophet have come with a message from above. No change. None. God is ready to give the people their consequences... but before He does, He tries once more. Jeremiah is sent to the Temple with a message for change. Why? "It may be that they'll listen... and turn from their evil ways," says God.

God knows human nature. God knows that sometimes (often!?!) we're thick-headed and slow to learn. Nevertheless, God offers us 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, etc. chances to turn our lives around. Whether we listen or not is up to us.

Sometimes I wonder whether my time spent with God each morning reading scripture is actually getting through to me? Can I use what I learn, or is it "in one ear & out the other"? I like to think it's shaping my life... but I need to make sure I'm responding to God's words.

PRAYER: Help me to listen & respond to your words, LORD!

Restoration (Plus!)

[This is from Saturday, 10/18/08]
"Resist (the devil), steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, & establish you."
(1 Peter 5:9-10)

The author is encouraging the believers to resist the temptations of the devil. I'm guessing this can be both personal temptations to sin, as well as the temptation to abandon (or give up on) God when times get rough.

What I love about these verses is the very end. After a little while, the writer promises, God Himself will restore, support, strengthen & establish us. By the very definition, "restore" acknowledges that we'll have slipped, stumbled or fallen in our faith. But God is a god of multiple chances! When we turn to Him, He will restore us! Praise God!! But temptation is temptation... and it's not a "one time only" affair. Quite often, we are tempted repeatedly. Left on our own, we'll fail again. God knows that. So God helps support & strengthen us. God gives us relationships, counseling, accountability, encouragement, and resources to help keep us on the right path. We have to be humble enough (and willing) to accept this, however. As we do, God then works to establish us in His goodness & grace.

The great thing about God is that He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows not only "human nature," but our own foibles, weaknesses, tendencies, & strengths. He knows we'll be tempted & tested by life's challenges & sins. But through it all, God provides a means by which we can regain our strength when we've fallen. And hopefully, by the next time we face those same temptations, we'll be better able to resist.

Prayer: Thank you for your patience, grace, forgiveness, mercy, and support, Lord... as I struggle to be the person you have called & created me to be. AMEN.

Friday, October 17, 2008


"The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, 'Come, go down to the potter's house and there I will let you hear my words.' So I went down tot he potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him."
(Jeremiah 18:1-4)

One of Jeremiah's more famous images/metaphors - the Potter & the Clay! God, of course, is the potter and we are the clay (though my friend, retired pastor Shig Tanabe says, "We like to think that WE'RE the potter!"). God works our lives into what seems good to Him (however, unlike clay that can't 'push back,' we often rebel against God's shaping!). Notice, the potter doesn't shape the vessel... leave it for a while on its own... and then come back to find later that it's been spoiled. The potter has the clay IN HIS HANDS the entire time! Sometimes it just needs to be reworked.

It's been said that if we want to make God laugh, we should tell Him our plans. This passage reminds me that ultimately God is the One who shapes my life & future. This doesn't absolve me from personal responsibility, integrity & self-control... but rather challenges me to constantly be seeking God's will for my life (rather than my will for my life!).

I also love how the potter never gives up on the clay. If it's spoiled, he reworks it into a completely new vessel. Clay is valuable (and not to be wasted)! But it's also pliable and can be changed. Do I believe the same applies to ALL people? No one is outside the realm of change, by the grace of God!

PRAYER: OK, Lord... You are the potter! Mold me, shape me, rework me as You see fit! Keep me patient alnog the way. help me to work with Your will, not against it. I rest in Your loving & creative hands. AMEN.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Even the BIG GUNS couldn't do it

"Then the LORD said to me: Though Moses & Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward these people."
(Jeremiah 15:1)

If one had to list the "Top 5 Most Influential People in the OT" (not including God, of course), Moses & Samuel would definitely be on that list (along with David & Abraham, for sure... the 5th spot could be debatable!). Here in Jeremiah 15, God says something quite startling: God is so upset, frustrated & disappointed with the people of Israel that even if Moses & Samuel would come before Him and plead for mercy on Israel's behalf, God wouldn't change His mind. Wow! Even the "big guns" couldn't get God to change His heart. What, then would it take? Could it even happen?

My second reading today (1 Peter 2) speaks to this question: "'(Jesus) committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed" (v.22-24).

I know today in some theological circles, the "atonement theory" (Jesus' sacrifice = atonement for our sins) is being questioned & debated as being outdated & blood-thirsty. I'm not interested in getting into any debates on this. But it's quite telling, I think, that Jesus did something (through his life, death & resurrection) that no one else in all history could do - reconcile us to God. Talk about having friends in high places!

PRAYER: There are lots of things I'd do for my friends, God. I'm sure you feel the same way. In fact, there are stories in scripture about you changing your mind after one of your friends talked you out of it! And yet, only Jesus was able to bring me back into relaitonship with you. Wow. I know I don't always appreciate that... but thank you. AMEN.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Inquiring minds want to know!!!

"For the shepherds are stupid, and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered."
(Jeremiah 10:21)

How bad do things have to get before God calls you "stupid!"? Evidently, the leaders of Israel had reached that point! Jeremiah conveys the blunt message to them in chapter 10. What's the source of their stupidity? They haven't looked to God for guidance (they "do not inquire of the LORD"). The result is two-fold: they have not prospered, and they've lost their flock. Historically, this passage alludes to the Babylonian Exile, where so many Israelites were forceably taken to a foreign land for close to 70 years.

This got me thinking: How often do I "inquire of the LORD"? My profession is shepherding! You'd think I'd do this on a consistent basis... but do I? To be honest, probably not enough. And I'm not just talking about "prayer time" (though I could always improve in that area!). What about before I call or visit someone? Before I study or write my sermon? Before preparing for and leading youth group? Before spending time with my kids? Before communicating with Jody? Before choosing to spend my money? How might my day be different if I intentionally sought God?

PRAYER: I don't want to be a "Lone Ranger," Lord. Lead, guide, instruct, and discipline me as you see fit. AMEN.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The gift of BLUSH!

"They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not at all ashamed, they did not know how to blush."
(Jeremiah 8:12)

"Fair complexioned" folks like myself have a hard time hiding it when we blush. Our light skin seems to 'radiate with rouge' when embarrassment comes upon us. It's just the way God made us.

Reading Jeremiah 8 this morning, I discovered the primary reason God created blushing - it's an indication that one recognizes shame! The people of Judah were being scolded (again) by God via Jeremiah because of their sinful ways. "And they couldn't even blush because of it," says God. It's as if blushing is a gift from God that allows us to recognize when we're in a "compromising situation" (or at least a situation where one should be embarrassed!).

Could it be that God finds blushing "charming" and "endearing" - because He knows that means we're aware of the situation!?! Then we need to rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us out of that situation and into right action.

PRAYER: I don't usually think of blushing as a 'gift,' Lord... but please don't let my heart be so callous that I ever fail to blush. Keep my soul connected to Your Spirit so I always know wright & wrong. Then help me to follow the right! AMEN.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A New Kind of WHAT?!?!?

"Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, remove the foreskin of your hearts, O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem."
(Jeremiah 4:4)

When God called Abraham to follow Him... promising to make Abe the "father of a great nation"... God also asked him (and all males) to circumcise themselves, as a sign of their distinctiveness. For centuries, the Jewish people did this. Removing the "excess" skin from one particular area of their body, as a symbolic reminder that they are to be a people "set apart." Granted, it's a visible reminder that only they see... but a reminder, nonetheless.

Fast-forward to the time of Jeremiah. God knows the people have gone astray - in a major way. They've lost their distinctiveness. They've forgotten what it means to not only be faithful to god, but loving, kind, & generous to one another. God, therefore, calls for a new kind of circumcision: the heart! Biologists will tell us that there's no "extra skin" covering our hearts... but back in Biblical times the heart was seen as the center of a person's will. It was not only the home of feelings, but also thoughts and decisions. God wants the people to rid themselves of anything that gets in the way of their entire being being able to follow the LORD.

Once we get past the initial uncomfortableness of thinking about circumcision in a "devotional context," it's fascinating to me to imagine how distinctive we Christians can actually be. Few people ever see a man's circumcision (and rightly so!)... but if/when they do, there's no doubt about it! It's easy to tell when a person is circumcised. How cool if the same could be said about our hearts!?! What if people "could tell" that our hearts were circumcised to God? What if we, as Christians, loved others in such a way that everyone who came in contact with us just knew something was different? What if our lives were so aligned with God's will that others "could tell"? I dare say this world would be a heck of a better place.

So what are we waiting for?

PRAYER: Remove the foreskin from my heart, Lord. I want to live my life the way You created me to! May everyone be able to see You through my heart and my life. AMEN.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."
(Hebrews 13:16)

The US Stock Market has dropped significantly in the past 5 trading days. The world economy is plummeting. Trillions of dollars have been "lost" (on paper, at least) this past week. Oil & Gas prices remain high. Groceries have become even more expensive here in Hawaii. Money is scarce all around. In times like this, it's easy to want to "circle the wagons" and focus solely on ourselves... making sure we can provide for our own needs & the needs of our family.

And yet, I believe we were created to be in relationship with each other. We probably could simply rely on ourselves (or many of us here in the US could, at least). But God doesn't want us to live that way. "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have," says the writer of Hebrews. There's a fundamental shift in one's thinking when one moves from "self-preservation" to "others-centered." It's the difference between a scarcity mentality and an abundance mentality. Times may be rough, but we still have enough to share. Maybe now, especially, we have to be intentional on doing just that!

PRAYER: Keep my eyes open, LORD, to see how I can share with those aound me. Help me to do so with a cheerful and grateful heart, not at all begrudgingly. AMEN!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

No One Like Him

"Before (Josiah), there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him."
(2 Kings 23:25)

I really like Josiah! Crowned at age 8, when he was 26 some workers discovered an ancient manuscript in the Temple (turns out it was the book of Deuteronomy!). Upon reading, he realized they hadn't been living the way God intended them to. So Josiah did two amazing things: 1) Called the whole nation to repent and change their ways... 2) Removed every obstacle that competed with worship of God. It was a powerful turn of events. In fact, the author of 2 Kings said there was never a king like him, before or since (which is saying a lot, remembering the great Kings David & Solomon!).

I know Josiah didn't do those things to be considered "The #1 King of All-Time"; he did them because of his love for God. He turned with "all his heart, soul, & might" (maybe that's where Jesus got this expression when asked years later about the greatest commandment?!). What about me? Can I say that I've given God all my heart, soul, & might? Sometimes, yes. All the time, no. 2 Kings 23 lists specific actions Josiah took to rid the nation of anything that got in the way of worshipping God (check out v.5-20!). Have I been able to do that in my life? I'm not too worried about needing to "cleanse the world" of anything and everything that I think competes with worship of God - just anything & everything in MY LIFE (ie. desire to watch Sunday morning football, being 'too busy' during weekday mornings to spend time in prayer, thoughts that focus more on my desires than on God's, etc.). I've got a long way to go. But then again, it's not about being recognized as "The #1 pastor of all-time." It's about being faithful. Thanks, Josiah, for that insight. AMEN.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Parenting Reconsidered

"Manasseh was 12 years old when he began to reign; he reigned 55 years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD."
(2 Chronicles 33:1-2a)

The books of Kings and Chronicles list the line of succession of the monarchs of Israel & Judah. The author introduces the kings by name, age, length of reign, parents, and whether they did good or evil in the sight of God. Here's the bio on Manessah:
  • MANESSAH - 12 years old - 55 year reign
  • Dad: Hezekiah - Mom: Hephzibah
  • Bottom line of reign: Did evil in the sight of God
I know we no longer live in a monarch age, but it still blows my mind that the "keys to the kingdom" could be handed over to a 12 year-old boy. Unfortunately, he wasn't interested in pursuing God's heart. Not only are we told up front that he "did evil," later in verse 9 we're informed that he "misled Judah and its inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that they did more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the people of Israel." Wow.

This got me thinking about the role of parents. I understand that the reason he was king is that his father (the former king) had died. So now it's just he and "Mom"... but what about those first 12 years? And Hezekiah was one of the few kings who actually "did what was right in the sight of the LORD" (2 Chronicles 29:2). Was Dad too busy being king that he didn't have/make time to raise his own son?

My children are 10 and 13 years old (almost 11 & 14). If something were to happen to me and I wasn't around anymore, how would they fare? Would they walk in the ways of God? I sure hope and pray so! In fact, that's one of the prayers I pray regularly for them. I also have trust that Jody would continue to be a positive and faith-full influence to them.

The bottom line is, how am I raising my children to be the man & woman of God they were created to be? I think we've got off to a good start, but there's still more opportunity to guide, direct, teach and inspire.

PRAYER: Lord God, thank you for my children! I see such hope, joy, creativity & promise in them (some times more than others!). Guide us as Jody and I seek to be faithful parents. Draw them closer to You, as You draw them into a lifetime relationship. AMEN.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An Indestructible Life

"It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life."
(Hebrews 7:15-16)

Melchizedek - the most important king/priest that no one has ever heard of! His original story is found in Genesis 14:17-20... but here in Hebrews he gets a bit more "PR." Mel was the King of Salem (which means "peace" - ie. Shalom) and a priest. He blessed Abraham & Abe gave him the first ever-recorded tithe. In Hebrews, the author lifts Mel up as one of the most memorable high priests. Not only that, but alludes to the Messiah as coming from the "order of Melchizedek" (7:11). Jesus came into his kingship, not through royal lineage (well, at least not in human terms). He wasn't given a kingdom on a silver platter. Instead, writes the author, he gained his authority through an "indestructible life."

What an amazingly accurate way to describe Jesus' time on earth - an indestructible life. All that he did, said, thought and lived out was done with integrity, grace & power. He was all about living the faith of his ancestors ("Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob," etc.) - living into the promise of the Old Testament. This doesn't mean Jesus didn't get mad, frustrated or upset. Of course he did! But he never let those feelings get in the way of following God's will for his life.

An indestructible life. WE'RE not called to be Jesus, of course. But what a goal to shoot for - living an indestructible life. If we try to do this on our own - by our own "goodness," power & integrity, we'll fail miserably. You can count on that! Human beings constantly let others down - even pastors, church leaders, & other people of faith. But if we look to Jesus to be our strength... if we try to model our lives after his... if we open our hearts to be guided by his Spirit... we'll be on our way! And in the grand scheme of things, a life that's been committed to Jesus is indeed "indestructible," as it's bound for eternal fellowship with God.

PRAYER: I have no illusions of any personal grandeur, God. All the good that I am and do comes from you. Thank you for the model of Jesus' indestructible life. Keep me faithful to your call in my life. Forgive and restore me when I fall and when I fail. AMEN.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


"The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim lierty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favor..."
(Isaiah 61:1-2)
Many of us will remember that this is the passage Jesus preached on when he came back to his hometown of Nazareth, early in his ministry (it was also the sermon that caused his townsfolk to want to throw him off a cliff!).  Isaiah 61.  God's servant gives his "mission statement":
  • Bring good news to the oppressed
  • Bind up the brokenhearted
  • Proclaim liberty to the captives
  • Proclaim release to the prisoners
  • Proclaim the year of the Lord's favor
So this got me thinking... how does this match up with my "mission statement" (and I hear Tom Cruise's voice, from "Jerry Maguire," saying, "It's not a memo, it's a MISSION STATEMENT!!!")?  Well, since I was instrumental in shaping the vision/purpose/journey statements of Aiea UMC, I'll use those:
  • PURPOSE: Knowing, Loving & Serving God
  • JOURNEY: Building a life-changing community that follows Jesus through worship, relationships, spiritual growth & service.
As I pondered the two, I noticed a big difference.  Isaiah 61 is focused squarely on people who are suffering (oppressed, brokenhearted, captives & prisoners)... while ours at AUMC only tangentially mentions a "life-changing" community (which should minister to the suffering, granted).  Hmmm... that got me thinking some more... how much of my focus (or our focus as a church) is on those who are suffering?  The first 2 categories (oppressed & brokenhearted) may be internal conditions that are harder to see than captivity & prison.  I'd hope our worship & ministreis meet some of the needs that oppressed & brokenhearted have.  But are we doing anything for the captives & priosners?  Not really.

I don't necessarily think the prophet Isaiah was making a universal mission statement for all of us to adopt.  However, it does give us all an opportunity to focus more on those who are suffering.  Bart Campolo has talked about allowing our hearts to break from the things that break God's heart!  So may it be!

PRAYER: Give me eyes to see a world in pain... a heart to feel compassion... and strength to go to those in need with grace, hope & good news!  AMEN.