Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Parched Places

"The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail."
(Isaiah 58:11)

So much of Isaiah is calling the people back to the LORD... back to living rightly, the way God intended (and not mere "lip service"). Along the way God chastises, scolds, & corrects. But God also always seems to leave a message of grace. Here in chapter 58, God pledges to "satisfy your needs in parched places." That jumped out at me today. Parched places.

This earth was created with water... it was meant to have water... otherwise it dies (the same is true for humans!). Growing up in Arizona, I've seen some "parched places" in desperate need of life-giving water. Heck, in my own back yard here in Aiea there are some pretty parched places (since I don't water much... okay, never... and I'm dependent on the rains for water!). I also know how refreshing water is after a workout (basketball, tennis, etc.) - how good it tastes and how water restores the body. God tells us that he knows where we're "parched" in our lives: relationships, dreams, health, jobs, spirit, _______ (add your parched place here)______ ... and God will satisfy those needs! Wow. What a promise! Can you imagine what that could be like in your life? In mine?

PRAYER: Gracious, life-giving God... thank you for knowing my needs. You know where I'm "parched." You know it at times when even I don't know it (or refuse to acknowlege it). Open my eyes to see and my heart to know that you do indeed satisfy. AMEN.

Monday, September 29, 2008

"There's No Place Like Home"

"Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy an find grace to help in time of need."
(Hebrews 4:16)

The 5 of them slowly crept down the long, emerald hallway. They were tentative, unsure and at least one of them was more than a little bit afraid! They were about the meet "The Great and Powerful Oz" himself. Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion (and of course, Dorothy's little dog, Toto) approached the throne with trepidation. Anyone who's ever seen the film knows what a foreboding, overwhelming & utterly dramatic presence the Wizard made himself out to be (which, in the end, turned out to be all show).

As I read Hebrews 4 today, this scene from The Wizard of Oz flashed before my eyes. It's the opposite of what the author of Hebrews told us about Jesus! We don't need to cower in fear and be timid in our approach to Him. No! God, in Jesus, came to earth to live as us... and knows our weaknesses, our insecurities, and our struggles. He understands us completely . We have nothing to fear when we come before God. But we should be asking for God's mercy & grace... for that is what will help most in our time of need.

PRAYER: There's no place like home in Your loving presence, O God! Thank you for knowing me... understanding me... forgiving me... and welcoming me, despite all that! You are amazing!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

God's Tattoo

"But Zion said, 'The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.' Can a nursing woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands..."
(Isaiah 49:14-16)

"I think God has forgotten me." It's a cry many of us have either said, thought or felt before... if we're being honest. When the storms of life overwhelm, it's easy to wonder if we've been abandoned by the Holy One. God knows we feel this way from time to time. So through the prophet Isaiah, God addressed this all-too-human feeling.

God responds by asking of a mom can forget the child she's nursing - as in currently nursing! Of course not!! There's a physical bond... a life-giving connection that's of vital importance to the child (not to mention the fact that a lactating woman also feels physically in her body the state of breastfeeding!). Could it be that God aches to care for us? Can any mother forget her child - a child that she gave birth to, no matter how long ago? Never having been a mother myself, I can't say for sure. But my gut response is: I DON'T THINK SO! God says, "Even if these women DID happen to forget... even if... I WILL NOT FORGET YOU!" Wow.

But God doesn't stop there. God goes on to say that he's inscribed us on the palms of his hands. So, in effect, we are God's tattoo! How cool is that!?!? WE are God's tattoo! I've never had a tattoo personally (and currently have no future plans to get one!)... but whenever I want to make sure that I don't forget something important, I frequently write it on the palms of my hands. People try to offer me paper. "No thanks," I say, "I won't lose my hand!" I know I'll see my palms frequently throughout the day and then remember whatever it was that I didn't want to forget.

God has our names tattooed on the palms of His hands. He will never forget us!

But wait... look a bit closer... are those names on his palms... is that all I see? Oh my God, no!! Those aren't names, but NAIL SCARS on his palms! Scars of love and grace. Scars that remind Him every moment of every day about me... and you... and how much he loves us both.. Wow! Just wow! I'm speechless...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Swept Away!

"I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you."
(Isaiah 44:22)

With all the passages in Scripture about God removing our sins (i.e. casting them into the sea, washing them from scarlet to white, separating them from us like the East is from the West, etc.), I'd forgotten about this metaphor: God will sweep away our sins like a cloud.

Some folks may remember lying on the ground as a child, staring up at the clouds, trying to "see" shapes, animals, figures, etc. When I think of clouds, however, I go back to the time I lived in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (on the Big Island of Hawaii). Located at 4,000 feet elevation, HVNP sits atop a steep cliff that slopes down to the ocean. Trade winds blow. Seriously! Sometimes rather fiercely, too! I remember many a day watching misty clouds literally zoom through our neighborhood. It was as if they were late for some very important event, and were doing all they could to catch up.

That's the image Isaiah is talking about, I think. Even the darkest clouds and the fiercest storms "blow by." Some may last a little longer than others, but clouds never stay. Never. How amazing that this is the way God treats our sins - swept away! What a gift. What grace. What joy! Praise be to God. AMEN.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

(Much Needed) Comfort!

"Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem & cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness, prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'"
(Isaiah 40:1-3)

We're towards the end of a sermon series at Aiea UMC on forgiveness. Week 1 was the basics of forgiveness; week 2 - Why we forgive; week 3 - Forgiving the Hard Stuff; week 4 - Shall we Forgive & Forget?; week 5 - Forgiving Ourselves. I've been thinking a lot about week 5... and wondering how many people find themselves int hat place - having a hard time being able to forgive themselves? Whether it's one act of indiscretion or a lifetime of addictions, there are part of many people's lives that seem to hold them in perpetual guilt.

And yet as Christians, we believe that Jesus came to free us from the sins of our lives. Christ's life, death & resurrection became the key to unlocking the chains of condemnation. In fact, the apostle Paul said, "Now, therefore, there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus." And yet, we still find it hard to forgive ourselves.

Into this context, the words of Isaiah 40 are heard in a new light. "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem & cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid..." We beat ourselves up over and over, but our penalty has been paid - by Jesus! God wants to tenderly bring us back into His arms and "carry (us) in his bosom" (40:11). Will we allow those "wilderness areas" of our lives to be "straightened" by God? How can we not?

PRAYER: I think, for the most part, O God, that we don't really grasp the amazing gift that is your LOVE. Forgive me for not trusting in the power of the cross more completely. Help me to be a channel of grace by which others can be set free from the their own wildernesses, as Christ comes again to them in power! AMEN.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mercy Three

"And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies."
(Jude 22-23)

The author of Jude is seeking to encourage the believers to keep the faith, hold fast to the truth, and resist those seeking to divide their community. The very last instructions (in this short, 25-verse letter) deal with having mercy and saving 3 groups of people. The first two are 1) those who are wavering (in faith)... and 2) those "in the fire" (ie. caught up in trouble). As for the 3rd group, it's not clear exactly who they are (the NRSV notes that the Greek text itself here is unclear!). I think it's referring to those that some may feel are already "too far gone" - yet, we're called to have mercy on them, though hating their actions.

To me, this is a huge dose of GRACE at the end of a short but foreboding letter. We all know folks who are "wavering" in their faith. Rather than being disappointed or frustrated by their state, have mercy! From youth (who are searching for what role faith may play in their life)... to young adults (who are often questioning & challenging the faith they grew up with)... to adults dealing with children, "empty nesters," retirees, and those in their "golden years" (or is it "silver years?!")... they all have issues that affect their faith. Be patient with them all, our author says.

We're called not to "mind our own business" when we see those in trouble, but may indeed be called to "snatch them out of the fire." To me that literally means intervening in their lives to get them out of destructive behavior/situations. Sometimes we may feel inclined not to get involved... but it could be a tremendous act of love & mercy to snatch someone out of the fire!

Finally, there are those other folks that everyone knows are "no good." The ones we all hate/despise. Those who live as though they're allergic to goodness & kindness. We can also have mercy on them, without supporting/encouraging their behavior ("hate the tunic defiled by their bodies"). Too often even the most dedicated disciples separate themselves from those kinds of people. Could it be there are other ways to engage them? How can we show mercy even when we completely disagree with their choices and/or way of life?

PRAYER: We love retribution, Lord... for others (not us, of course)! Give us a heart of love and mercy... a passion to see GRACE recklessly & abundantly spread to all! Thank you for the patience & courage we need to live out this passage from Jude, showering mercy to those who need it most. AMEN.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Urgent Needs

"And let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive."
(Titus 3:14)

Paul, in Titus 3, reminds us that we are saved by the GRACE of God - it has nothing to do with any THING we do (ie. works, deeds, actions). It's a gift from God. But having said that, he instructs the community of faith to "devote themselves to good works." This is important, not because we "have to" in order to earn any special reward or to upgrade our "spiritual status," but simply because we've been given God's grace! As a response to that we carry out good works.

But Paul goes one step further and clarifies what kind of good works - those which "meet urgent needs." Wow. That's helpful to keep in mind. Is what I'm doing for others going to meet an urgent need? That question can help filter a lot of future actions - as I relate to my family, friends, church members, & general community. Granted, one person's idea of an "urgent need" and another's might be quite different. But I'll trust God's Spirit to help me discern that.

PRAYER: Give me eyes to see the urgent needs around me, LORD... and the courage to act, so I may not be found "unproductive." For the gift of your grace is wonderfully overwhelming! AMEN.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

(Divine) Change of plans...


"The people of Israel took captive 200,000 of their kin, women, sons & daughters; they also took much booty from them and brought the booty to Samaria. But a prophet of the LORD was there, whose name was Obed..."
(2 Chronicles 28:8-9a)

So Israel (the nation) is divided into 2 kingdoms: the North ("Israel") and the South ("Judah"). 2 Chronicles 28 states that because of their sinful behavior, the people of the South were defeated in battle by a combined army from the North & Syria. The result: 200,000 Israelites were taken captive by their Northern brothers (Not to mention great loss of life from the battle, and much "booty," ie. spoil). As the Northern army was carrying off the people & the "spoils of war,"they were met by OBED - a prophet of God. Obed severely chastises the Northern army, telling them their victory was due to God's anger at Judah - but they went too far in slaughtering their compatriots. And that the 200,000 captives (which Israel planned to turn into slaves) will only bring further guilt on the people of the North. "Release them!" Sure enough, that's exactly what they did!!! Not only that, but some of the leaders went out of their way to clothe, feed, anoint, & strengthen the captives... then returned them peaceably to Jericho.

On the one hand, this is an amazing story because a military force listened to a prophet of God and changed their plans/ways. On the other hand, it was an army (entire people) who were at least used to the idea that God's words played a key role in life.

What would it take for our military today to change their ways, based on "divine inspiration?" Never having been in the military myself, this seems a bit far-fetched. However, I do know quite a few people of faith who serve in the US military. I can honestly see their faith having a HUGE impact on how they fulfill their duties. But why limit this question to the military? Would our legal system change a stance if they received divine guidance? How about our politicians? Our teachers? Our police department? How about our doctors and medical personnel? Or our financial market folks? What about our CLERGY and our churches? Can we change our plans when God gives us new instructions (even reprimands our current plans?)? I sure hope so!

PRAYER: LORD, keep me open to the voice of the prophets among me. May I never be so wedded to a plan/idea of my own, that I fail to hear your voice. AMEN.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stale Sundays?

"The Lord said: Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote; so I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking & amazing."
(Isaiah 29:13)

Isaiah is writing at a time when the people of God had slipped into passionless, perfunctory, uninspiring worship of God. They were just going through the motions. God noticed. God could tell that even though they said "the right words" (is there really such a thing in worship?), their hearts were far from God. Ouch. God decided to shake things up - "shocking and amazing" things (I don't like the sound of that).

Which brings us up to today, doesn't it? How much of our worship is "by rote"? I think this question goes far beyond whatever particular style of worship one practices (ie. traditional, blended, contemporary, etc.) - anything can become "rote" if neglected. This gets to the heart of the matter, quite literally. Where's our heart during worship? Where's MY heart during worship? As a worship leader, I'm frequently thinking "one step ahead" of whatever is happening in the service. I'm wanting to make sure everything's planned, set & ready. Hymn tempo... clarity of the projected graphics... mic levels... pacing of the service... these are just a few of the many thoughts that can race through my mind during Sunday morning worship. The danger for me, however, is missing the moment. Missing the chance to connect right then & there with the Holy One of Israel. Ouch.

PRAYER: Oh Lord, let me trust the work that was done prior to the worship service, so I can truly worship You, too! Help me to model a heart connected to the Holy. And guide my preparation, so the worship services at Aiea UMC will never becomme stale, uninspired, too predictable & rote. We want to meet You there afresh every time we gather. Thank you for your constant presence with us! AMEN.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wonderful Women

"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you."
(2 Timothy 1:5)

As Paul writes to encourage young Timothy, he reminds Timothy of his faithful lineage - especially his grandmother Lois. It's been said that women have been the backbone of the Christian faith since the beginning. I tend to agree. There are definitely more active women than men in my local church!

But the passage today reminded me of MY Grandma White. she grew up in Livingston, Montana. She was a nurse... she worked her garden... she could fish with the best of them... she was an artist & poet... and she loved her grandchildren! We'd drive up from Arizona every few years or so to visit them in Montana. I loved those visits! We always went to church with them, too. When I was a senior in high school, close to graduation, Grandma & Grandpa White came out to Hawaii to visit. She asked me about my plans for the future. When I told her I wanted to be a lawyer, she said, "The world needs more Christian lawyers." So true. That summer she underwent heart surgery, but did not survive the procedure. She undoubtedly would have been proud to know that I became a pastor (not that there's anything wrong with being a Christian lawyer, mind you!).

I'm grateful for her faith... a faith that was passed on to my father... and then to me. I'm grateful for the faith of my mother and my step-mother (whom I've always thought of as "mom"), and the influence both of these women have had on my life & faith. Praise God for the women in our lives.

PRAYER: Thank you, LORD, for the women you've blessed me with in my life (and faith). From my daughter Emily to Jody... to Pat & Sylvia... to Grandma White, Grandma Swanson, & Grandma Young... to all my aunties (Sally, Dina, Barbara)... to my mother-in-law, Joanne... they have all had an impact on my faith. What a blessing. AMEN.

Monday, September 15, 2008

From Enemy to Family

"On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt my peopole, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.'"
(Isaiah 19:23-25)

This is one of those amazing passages I "stumble upon" every so often in Scripture. Tucked away at the end of chapter 19, when the first 2/3 of the chapter deal with Egypt's condemnation & impending punishment... comes quite a turn of events. In verse 19, we're told there will be an altar to God in Egypt that will serve as a witness to the LORD! "The LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians and the Egyptians will know the LORD..." (v.21). A few verses later we read about a unique highway between Egypt & Assyria - two of Israel's toughest enemies over the years. Those great nations will intermingle... and Israel will become a BLESSING to both... with all uniting in worship & reverence to the LORD.

Assyria is modern-day Iraq. Given the current political situation between the US and Iraq, it's not hard to connect this passage to our situation today. Over the weekend, I watched the new film "Traitor," a story about an undercover US spy who's Muslim (played by Don Cheadle), infiltrating a radical Muslim terrorist organization. Numerous times in the film, "both sides" (the US and the radical terrorist org) talk about fighting "the war" between them. There is a palpable sense of warlike situations all over the world today. But what an amazing vision presented here in Isaiah! Three major nations will somehow be united in worship. Nations whose geography, religion, & history had separated them - now come together under God. And God calls each of them special & beloved. Amazing! Israel will be the catalyst for blessing.

How might God use our country to bring a blessing to the world? Or maybe we're the "Assyrians" or "Egyptians" who will be brought back into a genuine relationship with God? To me, it doesn't matter. What matters is knowing that God is working for unity in the world... and God has a unique relationship with ALL people - even those we deem as "enemies." How cool that God sees us all as his friends & his children!

PRAYER: You are amazing, Lord. Pull me into alignment with Your kingdom and your vision for the world. AMEN.

Lions, Tigers & Bears (oh my!)


"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling togehter, and a little child shall lead them..."
(Isaiah 11:6)

Ah yes, Isaiah's "peacable kingdom" imagery. One of the more memorable passages in the Old Testament. All sorts of natural enemies are living together in peace: wolves/lambs... leopards/baby goats...calves/lions... cows/bears... lions/oxen... children/snakes. "They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (v.9).

This is more than a "heavenly petting zoo" where all the critters have been spayed, neutered, defanged & declawed (and quite possibly tranquilized!). This is not a superimposed "cease fire" where the animals are forbidden to "act out" their aggressions. This is a complete REORIENTATION! Those who had been natural enemies (predator/prey relationships) no longer are. Their basic needs are met and their "culture" has changed. And a little child shall lead them.

As Christians, we see Jesus as "the little child," born in a lowly Bethlehem manger, as the One to usher in this new era of existence. The "Prince of Peace" comes to dissolve the human boundaries, prejudices, fears & tensions we've erected between us. We are called to envision (and work toward!) a time when everyone will dwell together in peace & security. Is this a "pipe dream"? An impossibility? Something that can never hapen? Some may surely think so. But I have to believe that it can happen. I have to be the one to start, however. I can't wait for others to change their attitudes toward me. I must seek to be a "peacable kingdom kind of guy." Will I see this vision come to pass? Who knows. That's not the point. The point is God's call towards this. Period.

PRAYER: Some things just seem so unlikely, Lord. Like everyone in this world living together in peace. And yet, your desire is for just that. Help me to not only believe that to be true... but have my actions bear out that belief! AMEN.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What Are You Afraid Of?

"For the LORD spoke thus to me, and while his hand was strong upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear and your dread."
(Isaiah 8:12-13)

It's still fairly early in Isaiah, and the prophet is still getting his "marching orders." Here God tells him not to get caught up in the things his people (nation) seems to be caught up in - their conspiracy theories, fears and dreads. "Don't get sucked into that," says God. "Instead, focus on and worry about me! Have a deep respect for me!"

Today, we as a people/nation seem to be worried about things like: the economy (rising oil prices, a possible recession, etc.), the US Presidential election, the ongoing war in Iraq (fight against terrorism), and Hurricane Ike (today, especially!), amongst other issues. In Hawaii: the effect the economy is having on tourism (and thus, the rest of the state!), the proposed mass transit project, and shark attacks! With all of these "pesky problems" and fears, I wonder if we give them too much attention? Sure, they're all very important, and deserve some thoughtfulness & action... but in the process of being afraid & worrying about all of these, have we forgotten about God? Have we misplaced our attention? Have we given God the focus He deserves in our life? Maybe this passage from Isaiah is calling us (me!) back to putting my energy into my relationship with God, and then TOGETHER God will walk us (me!) through the issues I've previously seen as "problems/fears".

PRAYER: "The fear of the LORD" seems like such an antiquated phrase. We don't want to fear You, God. We want to love and be loved by You. But have we lost some of the passion for You? Refocus me. Realign me. Let me not be distracted by placing my energy in something other than You. I know You'll be able to walk me through whatever challenges/struggles/uncertainties may come. AMEN.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Deep End of the Ocean

"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity & passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea."
(Micah 7:18-19)

The Old Testament prophets were masters at identifying the ways God's people had forsaken Him by their sins. Humanity has always preferred ignorance and/or avoidance over accountability when it comes to our sinfulness. Thus many came to "dislike" the prophets, immensely! But they weren't only "gloom & doom" messengers. They also conveyed God's grace! Here at the end of Micah we encounter a reminder of God's forgiveness & compassion. The end result? Our sins are cast into the deep blue sea!

Living in Hawaii, the ocean is a part of our life. We're surrounded by it, connected to it, and sometimes even dependent upon it. We know it can generate fun, joy & recreation... but it can also be foreboding, dangerous, and deadly. In short, we have a genuine respect for the ocean around us.

Micah tells us that god's plan is to cast our sins into the DEPTHS of the sea. Not the "shoreline," where the waves wash over & over, bringing items up & down the beach. This would be like being constantly reminded of our sins during every "tide change"! God doesn't dump them onto the "reef structures," in the ocean, either... below the surface, yes, but still within recreational diving range... where people can search for and discover our "treasure chests of iniquity." Micah went out of his way to use the word depths for a reason. I envision a place like the Mariana Trench, off the coast of Japan. It's not only the deepest part of the ocean, but the deepest location on the earth's crust... with a depth of almost 7 miles below sea-level (how's that for a divine number?!). It's so deep, no submersibles can even venture. It's so dark, it's pitch black. Once there, sins will be "lost" forever. how comforting to know that we're not only forgiven, but that God also gets rid of the evidence, too. Forever!

PRAYER: We've all messed up, God. Too often WE keep reminding ourselves of our past sins. But You don't! You forgive us and cast away our sins. Forever. Thank you. Help me to better trust Your grace. Help me to model Your example in my own relationships, too... as I forgive those who have hurt me. AMEN.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Pass the Salt!"

"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone."
(Colossians 4:6)

I think the Bible views salt a bit differently than we do today. We use it (sparingly!) as a food condiment. Period. (Well, unless we've got a slug problem, that is!) And more and more of us are on low-sodium diets, as well. But it's different in the Bible. Jesus tells his disciples that they're to be "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). I always understood this as a metaphor to "flavor the world" with our Christlikeness. But then I started finding other passages about salt...

Mark 9:50 - "Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another." (Perhaps a caution not to "fight" over theology/doctrine/religion?)

Leviticus 2:13 - "You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt." (There are numerous Old Testament passages requiring salt with sacrificial offerings - there's something HOLY here!)

2 Chronicles 13:5 - "Do you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?" (Binding promises required salt!)

Ezra 4:13 - "...because we share the salt of the palace and it's not fitting for us to witness the king's dishonor..." (indication of being an "insider"?)

2 Kings 2:19-22 - This is a story of how Elisha uses salt to purify the "bad water" of Jericho (healing/purifying properties of salt?)

Plus numerous references to salt-lands and the Valley of Salt. (Not to mention Lot's wife's infamous ending!!!)

Sacrificial offering.

Seen in these contexts, maybe Paul was trying to say something quite profound about how we, as Christians, should speak to others?

As one who's invested int he future of the other...
Speaking words that heal and purify those with whom we speak.

Wow. Pass the salt!

PRAYER: Oh my LORD, what a joy to discover new depth to familiar words in scripture. Salt, eh? May I remember to have "salty speech" not just today, but everyday. With my family... with my church members... with my fellow soccer parents... with the people I see in Starbucks... even with myself! Guide my words so they do not bring shame to you. AMEN.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

God = Tree

"O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; your faithfulness comes from me."
(Hosea 14:8)

In the final chapter of Hosea, after chastising the (wayward) Israelites throughout the book for their idolatry, God reminds them of this powerful reality: "I look after you - your faithfulness comes from me." Even while the people strayed, God kept watch over them - like a parent who secretly follows their child after s/he vows to "run away from home," watching over from a distance. What really intrigued me, though, was when God compared himself to an evergreen cypress tree. Tall & strong, yes. But also ever-green throughout the year - never changing.

I love trees... through I've never really thought of God as a tree. Trees provide shade, shelter, stability... they prevent erosion... create oxygen... and they're a lot of fun to climb! God is our shade & shelter from the "harsh elements" of this world. He helps keep our lives from "eroding away" in sinfulness. His breath literally gives life. He brings abundance and joy to any relationship. And most of all, he's faithfully stable! "Your faithfulness comes from me," says the LORD. "It's not your doing, but me in you! Why would you stray from my branches?"

PRAYER: Lord, every time I see a tree, help it remind me of you and your faithfulness in my life! Thank you for watching over me, even when I've strayed from you. Your parental love is life-changing. Never let me depart from your branches, O God!!!

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Parent Remembers...

"Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them."
(Hosea 11:3)

God's words to Israel via Hosea begin in chapter 11 with a parent/child metaphor. "When Israel was a child, I loved him" says the LORD. God remembers teaching His people "how to walk"... holding them "in my arms"... even feeding them (v.3-4). Yet they were unaware of just what that early relationship brought: HEALING!

Any parent can daresay remember similar events in the lives of their children: their birth... learning to crawl, walk & run... first words... games we used to play with them... (and mothers will especially remember feeding times, I imagine!). We remember how we put them to bed when they needed rest... changed them when they were dirty... fed them when they were hungry... took them to the doctor for "well baby checkups" and immunizations... consoled them when they cried. In short, we brought health & healing to them... despite the fact they were too young to really know (& understand) what was happening.

God laments when we "can't remember" the many ways He's cared for & healed us over the years. We are (I am!) so clueless (forgetful?) sometimes. For that, O LORD, forgive me. Thank you for your love for me from the very beginning. It has truly transformed my life. Every once & a while I "get it." Today is one of those days! AMEN.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Orgies vs. Glory

"Ephraim is joined to idols - let him alone. When their drinking is ended, they indulge in sexual orgies; they love lewdness more than their glory."
(Hosea 4:17-18)

Hosea is such a provocative book! The prophet's message from God uses the image of an unfaithful spouse to describe Israel's relationship with God. It's quite graphic in times, too! Israel is constantly "sleeping around" on her husband, God. Nevertheless, God's love is constant... and Hosea shows multiple times the redeeming power of that love. But today my heart was intrigued by these two verses from chapter 4 describing Israel (Ephraim). In their pursuit of other gods, they "love life" via excessive alcohol & sexual orgies. This should not be a surprise to us today. These two items have been popular for a long time! Alcohol & sex tend to meet immediate needs & mask pain. But the part that really floored me was this: "they love lewdness more than their glory." Wow. God's not scolding them for "being bad." God is saying that they were created for so much more! They were created to express God's glory! They were created to be amazing people... yet they've chosen the easier option: lewdness & immediate satisfaction.

Is the way I'm living truly expressing my glory to God and others? I know at times I also choose to go the "immediate satisfaction" route, though maybe not via these same vices. Nevertheless, God stands lovingly calling me back with His redeeming love. "Express your glory, Jim!" May I have the courage to do just that. AMEN.

Friday, September 5, 2008


"More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and regard them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ..."
(Philippians 3:8-10)

Just a few verses before, Paul had given his brief religious bio: circumsized at 8 days old (per scripture), an Israelite of Benjamin's tribe, a Pharisee, a Persecutor of Christianity (religious zeal!), and completely righteous under the law! He was "Mr. Jewish Believer Extraordinaire." He was the cream of the crop. Now, however, he's writing to a Christian group of believers from the confines of prision, having lost all of the advantages of his religious background - and he's delighted by his present condition! Why? Because of the "surpassing value" of knowing Jesus. Period. Everything else pales in comparison. In fact, he goes as far to say everthing else is rubbish. Wow. Paul's new identity & value (standing?!) comes from faith in Christ Jesus. Period.

We still livei n a society where position, status & background play a HUGE role. But our pursuit of "bettering ourselves" is really a pursuit of rubbish, if connecting to Jesus isn't part of our endeavors. "Surpassing value" doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of describing what a life lived with Christ can bring - but it's a start!

How does my assessment of my value system compare to Paul's? Is knowledge of Jesus my #1 desire? Is growing in my faith & relationship with him a "surpassing value" over every other possible pursuit? Sometimes, yes. All the time? No. For that, Lord, forgive me.

PRAYER: Despite how my mind sometimes works, LORD, it's not about being famous, popular, respected among my peers... it's not about having a growing church, a cutting-edge church, a dynamic church... it's not about being financially well-off, self-actualized, secure. When all is said and done, LORD, it's about YOU. It's about being in relationship with You... growing closer to You... deepening my knowledge, love & discipleship with You. Everything else is really rubbish - or at least worht as much, in the eternal perspective. Help me to live that out. AMEN.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Genuinely Concerned

"I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you, soo, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ."
(Philippians 2:19-21)

While in prison, Paul tells the church in Philippi his desire to send Timothy to them. Why Timothy? Paul gives him an amazing endorsement: "There's no one like him who'll be genuinely concerned for your welfare." Wow. The problem with the others is this: they're more focused on their own interests than God's.

This is a troubling statement. Where do I fall on this spectrum? My "job" is to care for the needs of my faith community - and I like to think I do that. But how much of my day is spent "seeking my own interests?" How much of my HEART desires my own interests, too? I can honestly say that within my family, I genuinely do seek the welfare of Jody, Ezra & Emily above my own. It's something I saw my father model, and something he learned from his father, too. May I also be able to model this as pastor of Aiea UMC.

PRAYER: Lord, You have called me to be "genuinely concerned" for the people of Aiea UMC. Keep me faithful to this task and not to slide into seeking my own interests. Thank you for the witness of my parents, and the opportunity I have to love my own family. AMEN.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Overflow More & More

"And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best..."
(Philippians 1:9-10a)

The Christian community in Philippi was Paul's first church in Europe. He's writing to them now from prison - to encourage their faith in the midst of hardship. Among the remarks he makes in this first chapter is a prayer for their LOVE to "overflow more and more" with knowledge & full insight. I'm guessing Paul means knowledge and insight of God... that they'd come to know and understand the amazing depth of God's love for all people. That, in turn, would bubble up within them an ever-increasing, over-flowing love for others. Paul's not just asking for "more love," but OVERFLOWING LOVE - more than they can possibly contain! More than they need! Excess, abundance & extravagance!!!

I wonder if we become contenct with "just enough" love? Enough for us, our family, some friends, etc. Like checking the gas gauge in my car, do I put off goin gto the gas station because I know that 1/4 to 1/2 tank is still enough to get by? Paul desires an abundance & overflowing of love for the Philippian community. Their "love tank" constantly stays on FULL! And others can soak up the excess that's oozing out. That's grace. That's God. That's the abundant life Jesus talked about.

PRAYER: Lord, make me never content with "just enough" love... but expand my desire for an overflowing love... that grows daily! Help me to glimpse more of how you love, so I can continue to be inspired in my daily discipleship to imitate that. AMEN.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

No Comparison!

"When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, 'Lord, what about him?'"
(John 21:21)

Talk about an emotional time for Peter. Here he is, fishing again (possibly for the first time since he left fishing behind to follow Jesus). The weight of his denial of Jesus, prior to Jesus' crucifixion, had to weigh heavy. In the wee hours of the morning, after an unsuccessful night of fishing, Jesus appears on the shore. Peter doesn't even wait for the boat to row back to shore; he jumps in and swims to Jesus. Then while eating breakfast with them, Jesus asks Peter three times whether or not he loves him (1 for each denial of Peters?). When Peter affirms his love, Jesus calls him afresh to discipleship: "Follow me!" But just before this call to follow, Jesus cryptically mentions something about Peter's future and impending death. At which Peter turns and asks Jesus about his friend sitting next to him ("the disciple Jesus loved"). Jesus tells him basically to just worry about himself, not his friend.

It's a human trait, isn't it, to compare ourselves to others?!? Peter had just experienced an amazing exchange with Jesus - no other disciple had been singled out by Jesus that morning... and peter STILL felt the need to compare himself to others. Lovingly, Jesus tells us all to mind our own business. It's not about everyone getting the same treatment or everything being "fair" or "just". We're simply called by Jesus to "Follow me!" He will give us the grace we ned to endure, should we respond.

PRAYER: Lord, I don't want to get into the habit of comparing myself to others - especially other pastors and churches. I know You've called me to follow. That's enough. Keep me faithful in that task. AMEN.