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.