Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two Responses

"(Jesus) told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him."
(Mark 3:9-10)

Crowds.  Needy people.  REALLY needy people.  Sick & diseased people.  Desperate people.  Add to that mix - Jesus "the healer," and you have all the makings of a mob scene.  So Jesus planned ahead.  He had his disciples get a boat ready so he could preach and teach from the shoreline.  In his young ministry, he's already learned that one of the main responses to him was for people to crowd around & press up close to him.

But there's another response from a particular group - those "demon possessed" people (those with "unclean spirits").  Mark tells us that they responded quite differently - they bowed down and shouted, "You are the Son of God!"  Unclean spirits said this!

So we have two different and yet similar groups: the sick & diseased... and the demon possessed.  The first group knows they need healing, but primarily see Jesus as the ultimate healer.  So their response is to surge for more of him.  Press forward.  So much so, that Jesus actually feared being crushed!  Wow.

The second group is also sick - but not physically.  Mentally.  Emotionally.  Relationally.  Only, they don't want to be healed.  That's the nature of the beast, so to speak.  Yet, they're completely in tune with who Jesus truly is.  They know!  Son of God.  Savior.  Master.  King.  And instead of pressing up, they respond by falling to their knees.  Reverence.  REVERENCE!!  From a group that lives in opposition to Jesus' ways.  And they're the ones who recognize his true identity.

How often do we "press in" toward Jesus?  Seeing him primarily as one who can "do stuff" for us?  So we move as close as we can to him.  But it's not an intimate movement.  It's crushing.  Stifling.  Might we learn something from the unclean spirits?  Might the possessed have it right?  When we're in the presence of the "Son of God," the only legitimate response is to fall on our knees and acknowledge his authority!

Of course, he's a God who wants intimacy, so he won't keep his distance.  But who are we to presuppose such casual familiarity?  I don't want Jesus to feel like I'm "crushing him" with my constant demands/requests.  He's big enough to handle them, for sure.  But there's a difference between coming to Him with our needs, and overwhelming him by nagging.  Intimacy & reverence.  That's what I want more of.  (Sounds like a great New Year's resolution doesn't it?).  AMEN.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gloriously Busted

"How happy is the one whom God reproves; therefore, do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.  For he wounds, but he binds up; he strikes, but his hands heal."
(Job 5:17-18)

"Busted!"  Nobody likes getting caught doing wrong.  Nobody enjoys being scolded or reproved.  Some of us have experienced varying degrees of discipline over the course of our lives - from the "slap on the wrist" (basically looking the other way) to being "taken out to the woodshed" (physical beatings).

But not all discipline is created equal.  What comes from a well-spring of anger/resentment has quite different effects than discipline emerging from genuine love & concern.  Enter our passage today from Job 5.  It reminds us that God's discipline is a good thing for us.  Don't fight it!

God has set guidelines for how we are to live.  Rather than believe them to be "restrictive" and "oppressive," God's laws help us live with freedom, grace, joy & purpose!  When we act in contradiction to those standards, we do harm to ourselves & others.  So when God disciplines us (whether we receive it through reading scripture in our own quiet times, or other "more public" means), it's to help restore us to true wholeness (holiness!).  Whether we're pastors or children, God's discipline should never be feared.  Only embraced.  Sure, it will be uncomfortable for a while (no one likes getting 'found out').  But we'll come to know the healing power of being gloriously busted!  AMEN.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Simple Gifts

"Forty years (O God), You sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell."
(Nehemiah 9:21)

'Tis the season... to give & receive gifts.  All of us are in the midst of it, right?  As we prepare for Christmas (only 10 days away!), we've all got our lists, don't we?  People we need to shop for.  And in many cases, we love doing it - because these people are special to us, and it brings us joy to be able to bless them.  The other list I've been trained to make is the post-December25th list (aka the "Thank You" list).  My mother trained me early on of the importance of acknowledging the gifts I've been given.

The 9th chapter of Nehemiah is like one giant "THANK YOU" note to God!  The priest Ezra is recounting the wondrous deeds of God... how He's richly blessed his people over countless generations. A lot of it can be classified under "the big stuff" (ie. created heaven & earth, gave us life, made covenant with Abraham, divided the Red Sea, manna in the wilderness, etc.).  These are the miracles.  The one-of-a-kind moments that become seared into the consciousness of a people.

But there are some other thank yous.  Ones that aren't quite so flashy.  Ezra notes that during the 40 years in the wilderness (post-Exodus), God set it up so their clothes didn't wear out and their feet didn't swell.  To be honest, I don't know if I've ever given thanks for those two specific things.

Now, given the reality of their situation - wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years, both of those problems were distinct possibilities.  Clothes do wear out - especially out in "the elements" of the wilderness.  And it's not like the Hebrews could just pop over to The Gap (or Banana Republic!) and pick up a few more cargo shirts.  Plus, swollen feet are a given when one is doing as much walking as htey were.  Yet, neither was an issue for the Israelites.

Did they recognize these simple gifts at that time?  I don't know.  But I've recently started having some calf/achilles muscle problems during my weekly basketball activities.  I never really appreciated what a joy it was to be able to play ball without aches & pains (and injuries).  Now I sure do!  Simple gifts.  They're all around us.  And if you're anything like me, you can do a bit more to recognize them... and express gratitude to The One Who Bestows Abundant Blessings!  AMEN.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Guide

"Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus - for he was numbered among us and was alloted his share in this ministry."
(Acts 1:16-17)

Let's talk Judas.  What words come to mind when you hear his name?  TRAITOR... BETRAYER... THIEF (John tells us he used to steal their common funds)?  ALL-AROUND BAD DUDE?  Yet here in the first chapter of Acts - the book about the early church & how it got started - we get a slightly different perspective.  Judas has committed suicide & the disciples need to find a replacement amongst the 'inner circle.'  But what descriptive word does Peter use when talking about Judas?  "GUIDE."  Judas 'became a guide for those who arrested Jesus.'

It's sort of always bothered me that Judas got the label of "Betrayer."  It wasn't like he gave out any inside information about Jesus that people didn't already know.  Nor did he reveal any secret location of Jesus' whereabouts, when he was trying to remain hidden.  Jesus had been out in public all week - preaching & teaching (granted, during the day there were great crowds around him, so at night it would have been 'less congested,' and easier to arrest him without the people protesting).  But Jesus wasn't trying to stay hidden.  So I don't buy the 'betrayer' label.

But "guide" is very interesting.  Instead of helping guide people towards the Kingdom of God (which was Jesus' stated mission, and what he trained his disciples to do), Judas guided the Jewish religious authorities to Jesus - but not for insight, healing or illumination.  He guided them ot Jesus to STOP his ministry.  Maybe he became disillusioned with who he wanted Jesus to be in light of who Jesus was actually becoming?  Whatever the reason, Judas guided people to Jesus for the wrong reason.

One of my seminary professors liked to say that if we wanted to get the full impact of the Bible's power, then we needed to put ourselves in the role of the least likable characters in a story.  So how might we be following in Judas' footsteps?  How do we "guide" people to stopping Jesus' ministry?  How does what we say or do discredit the gospel that Jesus worked so hard to share?  It could be things that bring obvious shame to God (and Christianity in general), or it could be simply attitudes & actions that turn people off from seeing Jesus for who he really is.

Far be it from me to cast the first stone.  I just pray that I'm not one who guides people away from Christ.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Unlimited salt!

"Whatever the priest Ezra, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence, up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and unlimited salt."
(Ezra 7:21-22)

Midway through the book of EZRA, we get to meet the man for which the book is named.  Ezra is a scribe of Hebrew descent, living in Babylon.  Evidently, he's in really good standing with the Babylonian King, Artaxerxes... for he is empowered to take a core group back to Israel to rebuild their temple.  But the king doesn't just "let him leave" the place where Ezra & his companions have been living in captivity for over 75 year... he also sends Ezra with a few "parting gifts" (aka supplies).
  • 100 talents of silver = approximately 7,500 pounds of silver...
  • 100 cors of wheat = 650 bushels...
  • 100 baths of wine & oil = 6,100 gallons each...
(I love the unlimited salt part.  Can you imagine going down into the "Salt Storage Room" and trying to figure out how much to bring along with you?  "Let's take two of those big Costco-sized storage drums.  No, wait... how much do you think a camel can hold?!?")

The king believed in Ezra's integrity, passion, purpose & faithfulness - otherwise he wouldn't have sent him off with such blessings.  How empowering that must have felt for Ezra.  It didn't mean there'd be absolutely no problems - but it was a great start.  Also, Ezra made sure that he and his traveling companions began their journey home only AFTER preparing themselves spiritually for the endeavor (prayer & fasting).

We at Aiea UMC are embarking on a new chapter of our history next month.  We're launching the process of starting a House Church ministry - with the desire to bring people together in small groups of caring communities, that otherwise wouldn't normally be drawn to a traditional church setting.  Instead, they'll meet in homes - growing closer as friends (and quite possibly eventually) followers of Jesus.

As we begin, we've been blessed by the larger UMC denomination. Our Conference Board of Congregational Development has granted us close to $125K for our first 18 months of ministry.  We still need to put in another 25-30% of the funds to meet our total budget, but what a wonderful start!  We have been entrusted with Conference resources (not something that happens everyday).  It's truly exciting!  It's also a bit scary.  Will it work out the way we're envisioning it?  Will people's lives be transformed?  Will we be up to the task?  Questions, I'm sure, Ezra & Co. pondered as they started out from Babylon.

In the meantime... all I can say is, "pass the salt, please!"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Sorrow of Being Unaware

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

I know of only 2 places in all Scripture that Jesus broke down and cried.  First, of course, is the famous shortest-verse-in-the-bible passage (John 11:35) - "Jesus wept."  It came after his good friend, Lazarus, died... and Jesus saw Mary (his sister) weeping, too.  The second is this passage from Luke 19.  Jesus is in his final week of life.  He's just entered the city of Jerusalem, in order to preach & teach.  He stands overlooking this great city and weeps for what could have been - had they only recognized what (WHO!) was among them.  He goes on to lament their future misfortune and then leads it all back to this cause: "Because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God" (v.48).

Wow... what an indictment - not recogniing the time of your visitation from God.  Most of us, if we found out that God would be visiting, would go out of our way to be ready & prepared.  But with Jesus walking in and among the people of Jerusalem... the city on the whole had no clue.  None.

We're in the Advent Season now... getting ready for Christmas in a few weeks.  So much about the Christmas story is "recognizing the visitation" of God - the Magi, Mary's divine conception, Joseph's angelic experience, the shepherds in the fields, etc.  It's ALL about recognizing.  (Herod couldn't and had to ask others for the signs.)

What about us?  Are we keeping our eyes open for signs of God's presence among us... or are we, by and large, clueless?  Can we "follow the stars" overhead... or will Jesus weep over our persistent unawareness?  The Good News is that it's still early in the Advent Season... and there's still time!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A New Perspective

"(Jesus) asked him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' (The blind man) said, 'Lord, let me see again.'"
(Luke 18:41)

There were no "handicapped accessible" reserved seating locations back then.  No braille ATM machines.  No "talking crosswalks" for the visually impaired.  Nope.  If you had the misfortune of being blind, you were simply out of luck.  Period.  Thus, forced to get by via begging.

So everyday he sat there.  Along the roadside.  Waiting for travelers so he could ask for some spare change.  Everyday.  But his ears worked.  Very well.  He'd heard about Jesus  The man who had miraculous powers.  Miraculous!  And one day, who so happened to come along, but this very same Jesus.

"Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" he cried.  (Note: By saying 'Son of David,' he was acknowledging that Jesus was indeed the Messiah!)  "SHUT UP!" the people around him scolded.  But the man cried out even louder. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Jesus heard him... and called him over.  "What do you want me to do for you?"

I imagine he could have answered Jesus in a number of ways.  'Make me rich' (so he could stop begging).  'Get back at all those who have put me down & insulted me over the years' (which had to have been demoralizing).  'Let me find someone to love me' (it must have been very lonely for him).  But he didn't ask for any of those.  He asked to be able to see again.  Now we may think that was a no-brainer (like, duh!?!).  But do you honestly imagine that he woke up that morning thinking he'd be healed today?  No.  Another day of begging.  The same old, same old... period.

So he came to his usual place and did what he always did.  Beg for money.  But when Jesus came by, he suddenly was given the chance to voice his deepest desire... a desire that no one else but Jesus could meet.  "Lord, let me see again."

I wonder how we'd respond if pressed to give voice to our deepest desire (a desire that ONLY Jesus could meet - no one else!)?  Oh, we may think we know what we want (financial security, a bigger house, a better job, Dallas Cowboys season tickets, an HDTV (!), etc.)... but when we find ourselves face to face with the Savior of the World, might we have a new perspective?

'Tis the season to be making gift wish lists, right?  What might you put on your "deepest desire" list for Jesus this Christmas?  And might we be able to shout out to Him for mercy?  Or are we simply content to keep quiet and not make a scene... to continue life the way we've been going along? 

I see we still have much to learn from this blind man...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

HIGHER definition

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give alms... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
(Luke 12:32-33a, 34)

On Thanksgiving Day, a windstorm blew over our satellite dish in our backyard.  We've been DirecTV subscribers since they first came to Hawaii (can you say NFL Network?!?) - about 5+ years ago.  Originally we had a medium-sized dish on our roof, but no local TV channels (we had to get them via an antenna).  Then they added another satellite over the Pacific, and about a year later they offered local channels.  But we needed a dish upgrade.  This one was HUGE... and it had to be mounted on a pole in our yard.  It was a HD-compatible dish.  We didn't have an HD TV, but it was necessary for us to receive local channels.  (Interesting note: at that time, true HD service required TWO of those massive dishes, linked side-by-side!)

So anyway, I was talking to our repair guy the other day about the size of the dish & HD service... and he said that now this single dish is able to receive HD service on its own.  Which got me thinking... gee, it sure would be nice to be able to watch sports in HD!!!  So I've been scouring the internet for prices/sales on HD TVs.  Nothing huge, mind you... 37-40 inches LCD should be adequate (1080, of course!).  But in the back of my mind, I kept hearing this voice ("But the TV you've got is just fine!")... so I'd answer back, "True, but it's not HD!"  To which the voice would say, "But the TV you've got is just fine!"  Which tells me that the voice doesn't know how to listen to reason!

Then I read today's passage from Luke 12, and stumbled upon (literally) verses 32-33.  Jesus tells his followers that God longs to give them THE KINGDOM!  Wow!  The Kingdom of God!?!  That's a great gift!  Then Jesus says, "Sell your possessions and give alms."  Hmm... what about "Upgrade your out-of-date possessions, sell your old models, and THEN give alms!"???  (Nah, I didn't really think so either).  The kicker comes in verse 34: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  (dang!)

We're officially in Advent now... the season of preparation for the Coming of Christ again.  I'm trying to lead my congregation along this pathway - putting the first things first - striving after The Kingdom... and darn it if visions of HD TV's keep dancing in my head!  ("But the TV you've got is just fine!")  Maybe God is calling me to spend that $500-$600 on the poor this Christmas, instead?  Maybe that's a "higher definition" of faithfulness? 

But what if a really good sale pops up?!?!

I know... I know... THE TV I HAVE IS JUST FINE.  (Sheesh!)

Monday, November 30, 2009


"Be silent, all people, before the LORD; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling."
(Zechariah 2:13)

We traditionally sing "Silent night, holy night..." on Christmas Eve - in fact, we sing it by candlelight at our church (like many others do, too).  It's always a very calm, quiet & reflective time.  All the rushing around is over.  Now we simply wait for Christmas morning to come.  It's fairly easy to be "silent" on Christmas Eve.

But Zechariah's call to "be silent" isn't directed to one specific night.  Zechariah records a series of visions from God (6 to be exact).  It's at the end of the 2nd vision (God's presence as a "wall of fire" around Jerusalem, and the promise of all nations coming  to worship God together there) that God calls the people to practice silence before God.

Surely he doesn't mean that for us now, though... right?  There's just too much to do!  Too many "boxes" we need to check off our lists.  Too many things this holiday season demands of us, right?  But if God is in our midst (as Zechariah asserts), then maybe we ought to take notice!?!  Can we see signs of "Emmanuel" (God-with-us)?  And when we do, can we stop our busy-ness long enough to be silent... to take in God's majesty & awe?  Maybe then we'd come to experience the true power of Christmas!?!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's missing?!

FROM MONDAY, 11/23...

"(Jesus) unrolled the scroll adn found the place where it was written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...'"
(Luke 4:17-18)

It was supposed to be a joyful homecoming.  The kid from Nazareth had returned.  Jesus was back.  He was home... and he was preaching.  Luke records this incident very early in Jesus' ministry career.  He comes to the synagogue for worship... gets up to read scripture... and selects Isaiah 61.  Great passage!  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

The Hebrew community LOVED this passage from Isaiah.  It marked a future time when God's Chosen One would come and set everything right.  And Jesus quoted it exactly... almost.  You see, he left out one part from Isaiah 61:1-2.  He left out "and the day of vengeance of our God."  Simple oversight?  Perhaps.  Calculated omission?  Probably.  It helps to remember that the Jewish people had centuries of foreign occupation and rule.  They were frequently getting "dumped on" by others.  Surely  God would eventually exact revenge, right?  They looked forward to that vengeance.  But Jesus left it out.

It's interesting that the Eastern translation of Luke 4:22 says, "All spoke ill of him" (rather than the current "all spoke WELL" translation).  How could he intentionally leave out vengeance?  Jesus goes on to highlight God's blessings on two non-Jews (the widow @ Zarephath in Sidon and Namaan the Syrian)... which threw the hometown folks into a rage (v.28) and they turn into an angry mob, trying to throw Jesus off a cliff!

What caused this sudden turn of events?  I bet it goes back to Jesus' omission from Isaiah 61:2!  Everyone loves revenge... to get back at our enemies... to give it to those who've been giving it to us!  Jesus said no to that.  That's not the way.  Instead, he taught, try peace... reconciliation... tolerance... forgiveness... grace.  And that ticked everyone off.

I'm sure if he came to preach that same message today, WE would have a much different reaction, right?  (Right?!) Or would we?

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Here comes the bride..."

"Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright & pure" - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints."
(Revelation 19:7-8)

THE END OF THE WORLD IS NEAR!  (At least people enjoy speculating about it, don't they?  See the #1 film in the box office this weekend as proof - '2012')  The book of Revelation surely doesn't shy away from dealing with THE END of all things.  And although there are moments of fire-n-brimstone, the actual culmination of it all takes a decidedly different feel - a wedding!

Jesus... the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world.. returns in gloyr, like a groom awaiting his bride.  The church (or, more specifically, the faithful!) is the bride - in all her radiant splendor - prepared for her wedding day.  We're told she's "clothed with fine linen"... and find out that linen is "the righteous deeds of the saints."

So picture the scene... the bride is standing still... dressed so beautifully... and her face beaming from ear to ear... just glowing!  She's waiting for her groom to come to her... anticipating the union... just moments away from being bound together in love for all time.

As Christians, it's our faith in Christ, not anything we have to "do" to cement our role as the bride.  So no matter what the bride is wearing, there's a deeper joy that radiates through.  It's a bonus that she's dressed in beautiful white linen... for that's the result of a lifetime of righteousness.  Nor perfection... just righteousness.  Again, it didn't earn the engagement... it was a result of that love affair we have with the groom.

Jesus welcomes us into His eternal embrace whether we've spent our entire lives serving him faithfully... or if we accepted his proposal after years and years of hard living.  But what a blessing to have spent as much time as possible doing what was right!  The world will be a happier & more peaceful place when it's surrounded by fine white linen... don't you think?!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Giving God props!

"Daniel answered the king, 'No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, but there is a God in heaven who has revealed mysteries...'"
(Daniel 2:27-28)

The king had a brilliantly insane idea.  To cut through all of the pretenders, sycophants, and wanna-bees he asked his 'top men' (magicians, enchanters, & sorcerers) to interpret his dream... AFTER they tell him what his dream was ('cuz, shoot... anyone can make up an interpretation if they're heard the dream first, right?!?).  The top men, of course, told the king it was humanly impossible.  Period.  So the king ordered their execution.  Daniel was given the role of chief executioner.  But before he carried out that duty, he prayed that God might reveal to him what the king dreamed.  Sure enough, by the grace of God, Daniel answered the king's request - and he gave God all the credit.

Which got me wondering... how often do I give God the credit for the numerous ways He's blessed me and enabled me to be who I am, with all my gifts & abilities?  Really, it's not about me.  It's God's strength, inspiration, and empowerment.  I don't think I let others know that enough.  Shame on me.  Full props to God!  AMEN.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For the sake of the children...

"Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches!  Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!  Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street."
(Lamentations 2:19)

The book of Lamentations truly lives up to its name - it's a lament (and kinda depressing!).  Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Babylonians - the nation of Judah (Israel) is in turmoil... it appears that all is lost.  The writer reminds the people of their unfaithfulness as the reason why calamity has struck... and also calls the people to PRAY.  To pray for their children, who are literally starving.

"Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children."  Has there ever been more sage advice for us parents?  We don't have to have our city being overrun by foreign invaders, do we, to be reminded to intercede for our kids?  Our love, indeed, is great, isn't it?  Then why do we fail to lift them up to God on a regular, consistent & intentional basis?  We are called to "pour out our hearts" to God for our kids. 

PRAYER: Forgive me, O God, for the casual way I've prayed for my two children.  Help me to be more consistent & persistent, starting today.  I place them completely into your hands... AMEN.

Monday, November 9, 2009

No Remedy?!?

"The LORD, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD against his people became so great that there was no remedy."
(2 Chronicles 36:15-16)

The ends of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles recount the fall of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army and the subsequent exile/captivity for the Hebrews.  But this passage in 2 Chronicles 36 gives a very succint explanation of "WHY?!"  It was not an isolated incident.  It was the result of generation upon generation of people who refused to listen to, be led by, and follow the LORD.  And it's not like God was distant and aloof all those years either, telling the people, "You know where to find me if you want me."  No.  God sent messengers and prophets - but they ignored and mocked and despised and scoffed at them.  Until "there was no remedy."  They finally had to face the consequences of centuries of sin.

I wonder if we're guilty of the same today?  Oh, maybe not the same sins as our ancient Hebrew ancestors on the eve of the Babylonian invasion... but might we be guilty of "mocking the messengers of God" (especially if they're from another denomination or have a different "theological persuasion" than us?)... or "despising God's words" (which are available to us in abundance through the bible - if only we'd read/listen)... or "scoffing at his prophets" (our church leaders/visionaries who might be asking us to consider new opportunities God has placed before us)?  The risk we face by following this path is that, over time, we might spur God's wrath to such an extent that there would be NO REMEDY.

And yet... and yet... (here's the Good News, friends!)... there still is hope.  For as followers of Jesus, we believe that no matter how hopeless we may be - no matter how messed up we allow our lives to get - no matter how far away from God we stray... JESUS is our remedy.  He stands in the gap between God and our sinfulness... and brings reconciliation.  That's love.  that's grace.  That's Jesus.

PS>  The David Crowder Band has a song called "Remedy" that would serve as a great "soundtrack' for this reflection today.  Check it out on i-Tunes or Youtube today!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Harps & Bowls

"When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp & golden bowl of incense, which are the prayers of the saints."
(Revelation 5:8)

Puffy white clouds... lots of harps... angels with wings... that's the "Hallmark version" of Heaven.  Sickening sweet & sterile.  And yet, when we get into the last book of the Bible - REVELATION - the picture actually changes a bit.  No clouds are mentioned.  There are 'celestial beings' with harps - but they're the "Twenty-Four Elders" (the number 24 probably coming from the 12 Tribes of Israel + the 12 Apostles of Jesus!).  Their job is to worship Jesus (the Lamb who was slain).  it's not their harps, but that they're holding in their OTHER hands that intrigued me, though.  Golden bowls of incense.  (Could this be a nod of solidarity to our Buddhist brothers and sisters?!?)  The bowls hold, we are told, "the prayers of the saints."  Wow!  How cool is that?!?

What an image - our prayers gathered in golden bowls... held by those closest to the King... standing before the throne of God... with our prayers wafting up to the Throne as incense smoke rises.  Awesome.

And yet, the question that strikes me hardest as I write this... have I been filling the golden bowls?  Sure I know we an pray anytime & anywhere... but do we?  Do I?  Especially as the senior pastor of a church, my responsibility is huge!  I definitely have work to do here.

How about you?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What sins?

"In those days and at that time, says the LORD, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and none shall be found; for I will pardon the remnant that I have spared."
(Jeremiah 50:20)

As we read through the Old Testament, we encounter indictment after indictment of the Hebrew people by God.  They were not living as a people "set apart" in righteousness.  God sent prophet after prophet to bring them back to Him.  This had little impact.  So God allowed 2 major exiles to take place.  The people were carried away from their homeland & forced to live for 2 generations in a foreign land (Assyria for the Northern tribes & Babylon for the Southern tribes).  So it's somewhat surprising to read Jeremiah 50:20... "the iniquity of Israel will be sought, and there shall be none; the sin of Judah and none shall be found."

The truth is that the Hebrew Scriptures contain a laundry list of the sins of Israel (Northern tribes) and Judah (Southern tribes).  But int he eyes of God, their sins are no more.  Gone. Vanished.  Wiped Clean.  Forgiven.  (What sins?!?)

Sometimes we get the picture that God is like a Divine Judge who calls us into court & listens to the evidence against us before choosing to give us leniency.  "Despite all I see against you," we hear God say, "I'm going to let you off with a warning.  BUT DON'T LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN, you hear!?!?"  According to Jeremiah 50, however, it's a bit different.  It's more like God is that friend who always stands up for us - even when we're in trouble.  'You ain't got nothing on him,' he says to others about us.  'Go look it up and see for yourself!'  And sure enough, our past sins are nowhere to be found. 

We've all got things in our past (and present!??!) that we're not proud of.  Things we know we've done that we're ashamed of.  Thing we know have let God (and others) down.  We know, however, if we confess our sins, God has forgiven us.  But there's also that nagging feeling in the back of our minds that God still has "the list" of all our bad deeds somewhere in "safekeeping" - in case He needs to use it against us somewhere down the road.

The truth, my friends, is that there is no list.  When asked about it, God replies with all sincerity, "What sins?"

Wow.  Just wow!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"I surrender!"

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

Faced with an onslaught by the invading Babylonian army, King Zedekiah of Judah was in a precarious situation.  "God will save us," cried many of his trusted advisers.  Jeremiah knew otherwise.  Defeat was immanent.  So his message to the king was simple: surrender!  Surrender & live.  Surrender & save the city.

Human nature is a flawed animal.  Pride reigns supreme - especially in us leaders.  To submit is to admit defeat (and weakness).  Zedekiah refused.  But instead of "fighting to the end," he and his officials chose to flee in the middle of the night.  They were caught, punished (his eyes were gouged out), and the city was destroyed.  If only he would have listened to God...

We're taught to "tough it out." To "fight to the end."  To "never give up & never surrender!"  And yet, could this story be telling us that there MAY be times when God might want us to surrender?  And I'm not talking about "surrendering our lives to Jesus," either.  We at least know how that's going to turn out.  No, I'm talking about surrendering in situations where it looks like we're giving in to "the enemy."  Where it seems as though to do so is to admit failure.  And yet, could it be that God might be wanting us to, on occasion, do just that?!?

In the 'BIG PICTURE' of things, the people of Israel needed to have those 70+ years in Babylonian exile to get re-centered and re-focused on God.  They'd been on a downward spiral for multiple generations prior and nothing God did seemed to make a difference.  So God allowed "the enemy" to win.  For a season at least.  Zedekiah tried to fight it (and look how that turned out!).

Now I'm not suggesting every calamity that strikes us is from God... nor that we should "give in" all the time.  But if God sends word to us - "Don't fight this... surrender... accept the momentary pain & humiliation, for I have a bigger picture in mind for you!"  Could we trust God through this kind of situation?  Could it be that God has a greater good in store for us, if only we'll surrender?!?

How crazy is that?!?

Monday, October 26, 2009

No 'Take Backs'!

"The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them - that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male & female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery."
(Jeremiah 23:8-9)

Jerusalem was under siege!  The Babylonians were attacking & things weren't looking good for the "home team."  In the midst of the entanglement, God sent a message to the people through the prophet Jeremiah: "Release all your Hebrew slaves.  Now!"

Scholars postulate why this command might have been given God... the food supply was running low (releasing slaves would be less mouths to feed!)... freed slaves might help defend the city (D-FENSE!)... or even in the midst of crisis, it would turn many hearts (back) to the LORD.  And King Zedekiah listened and obeyed.  All Hebrew slaves were freed.  Hallelujah!

But then the Egyptian army (with ties to Judah) approached from the south & the Babylonians retreated (momentarily) to meet that resistance.  Jerusalem was given a reprieve (if only for a moment)!  Praise God!  So what did they do to celebrate?  They took back their (former) slaves.  WHAT!?!?  How sad is that?!?

God noticed.  He sent word back with Jeremiah that since the people disobeyed His directions to release their slaves, he would "grant them a release" - a release of pestilence, famine & sword!  God wanted no take backs!!  When He gave a command it was to be followed.  Period.  Not "when it's convenient" or "under stressful situations only" or "when it seems to your advantage."

I think if we're honest, we're guilty of this all the time.  God has given us the words of life in the Bible... not a follow-this-instruction-sheet kind of a listing, but a take-this-in-and-allow-God's-spirit-to-direct-your steps kind of thing.  But we often have "selective hearing" (or is it "selective reading?")... choosing to follow/obey when it's convenient or practical or to our advantage.  Whether it's an issue of financial stewardship or caring for the environment or working for peace or loving our enemies or reaching out to help the poor (the list could go on and on!)... there are numerous times we "take back" a commitment we've made to God.

May we have the courage to follow through on our discipleship with the Lord.  May we trust that god knows what He's talking about when He calls us to obey.  And may we come to know the joy that is a life lived in obedience!  AMEN.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Save us (on our terms!)...

"Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!  O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD."
(Psalm 118:25-26)

"Save us!" is the cry.  By and large, I think this world wants to be saved.  It's hard to argue against that.  But one's definition of "being saved" probably varies greatly.  The Hebrew word for "save us" is HOSHIANNA.  It's where we get "Hosanna!"  In fact, the very next verse in Psalm 118 goes hand-in-hand with "Hosanna!"  Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the LORD.  It's what the crowds cried out to Jesus on what we in the Christian church refer to as Palm Sunday.

Jesus was entering Jerusalem (for what would be his last week of life on earth), riding on a donkey (a sign of humility)... and the people were shouting, "Hosanna!  Hosanna!" I guess I'd always thought it was like saying, "Praise God!" or "Oh Yah!" or "You're the Man!"  But no.  It means "Save us!"

Now here's where it gets complicated.  My idea of what "being saved" means... and God's idea of what it means for me to be saved may very well be two completely different things.  Look at Psalm 118:25b... "O LORD, we beseech you, give us success."  Ah, there it is!  Success.  Of course!  We want success!!!  The crowds in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday were ready for the occupying Roman government to be overthrown and the Hebrew people given autonomy once again.  "Save us... on our terms!"  But Jesus had another idea of what it meant to be saved... and it involved sacrifice, humility, submission to God's will (not ours)... it modeled servanthood, love & inclusivity.  The crowds who'd shouted, "Hosanna!  Save us!" on Sunday, changed their tune to "Crucify Him!" on Friday.

We are a fickle people, we humans.  We want to be saved... we really do... but on our own terms & conditions.  God doesn't work that way.  So if "Save us!" is truly our heart's cry... then it should be followed by the word of Jesus, when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was killed: "Not my will, but Yours be done, O Lord." Wow.

Hosanna!  Save us!  Please.  Please...

Monday, October 19, 2009

It all starts with goodness...

"For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love."
(2 Peter 1:5-7)

Interested in support your faith (well, who isn't, right?!)?  The author of 2nd Peter has a few suggestions: goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love.  Now maybe he was simply listing a bunch of things that all come in to play when "supporting your faith."  Then again, maybe it's something more...

As I thought about these, I wondered if there was a natural progression to these attributes?  Could it be that it all starts with goodness... a desire and willingness to do the right thing!?  Then you add knowledge... insight & understanding - which can expand one's horizon's greatly!  With that new-found knowledge, add self-control... here's where the "rubber meets the road," so to speak.  Knowing what's right and wrong and choosing to obey.  Self-control is greatly underrated in our society.  What can aid self-control?  Endurance!  Having a vision of "the big picture" or "the long haul," and not settling for anything temporary or fleeting, no matter how enticing it may be.  Once endurance has kicked in, godliness starts forming... a consistent lifestyle that echoes what God desires from us.  With an increased sense of godliness, one is able to have mutual affection towards others - no longer focused solely on self, a believer is open to having affectionate feelings toward all.  The ultimate progression of faith, however, culminates in genuine love.  Not an "I love this!" passing fancy... but a deep & sincere love.  A love that can change people and transform the world.

Sound hard to believe?  Sound too good to be true?  It's not as far away as you might think... and it all starts with goodness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

That's deep!

"Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart."
 (1 Peter 1:22)

We "love" a lot of things... from this new song ("I just love it!") to a good hamburger ("I LOVE this burger!") to a day off ("Gotta love a vacation day!") to acquaintances ("I Love you, man!").  Okay, so we probably overuse the world LOVE a bit.  The author of 1 Peter reminds us that when we're "obedient to the truth," we will have GENUINE MUTUAL LOVE.  Genuine... real, sincere, & rooted (not surface-level only).  Mutual... denotes a relationship; reciprocal - we must be involved in the lives of others!  Love... more than "like" or affection; concern, feeling, investment, commitment.

To this end, we're encouraged to "love one another deeply from the heart."  I consider myself a fairly friendly guy.  In fact, I probably have more than the average person's friendships, because of my role as a pastor.  And yet, if I'm honest about things, very few would qualify as "deep" relationships.  The deepest, of course, is with my wife, Jody.  But beyond that, I can probably count on one or two hands the other relationships that I "love deeply from the heart."  (At least ones that I've invested a significant amount of my love into!)  WHY?  Fear of intimacy?  I don't think so.  Unwillingness to "let others inside"?  Not really.  Lack of desire?  Nope.  Why, then?  Laziness?  Possibly.  For some reason, it's easier to go through life with a plethora of  "nice friendships"... than to be intentional about "loving one another deeply from the heart."

And yet... the Christian Church should be the place where deep relationships are cultivated!  That's where some of life's greatest abundances can be found - if we're willing to go there. 

What can I do TODAY to start cultivating deep relationships!?!?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No Guarantees

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place.  Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'"
(Jeremiah 7:3-4)

"If you build it, he will come," was the famous phrase from the 80's movie FIELD OF DREAMS.  It worked for a baseball field in Iowa... but Jeremiah tells us that it won't necessarily work for temples and churches.  Oh sure, people may come... in droves!  But don't expect God to show up just because it's a "house of worship."

In Jeremiah 7, God has the prophet chastise the people for their actions, not their worship.  They'd been acting unjustly - oppressing orphans, widows & foreigners, "shedding innocent blood," swearing falsely, committing adultery, stealing, following other gods, etc.  Then they'd waltz into worship and assume that God would be there waiting for them with outstretched arms.  WRONG!  God called their so-called houses of worship, a "Den of robbers" (a phrase Jesus would use later, when he confronted the temple moneychangers!).

"Don't trust in these deceptive words," Jeremiah is told.  "The temple of the LORD..."  Hymns, songs, prayers, rituals... no matter what we may say about God in our churches, that's no guarantee God is "on board" with us.  We have to walk the talk with our actions.  How sad that our failure to live out our faith may have caused God to leave our churches - and we may not have even noticed!  Ouch...

Friday, October 9, 2009

In our own time...

"LORD, I have heard of your renown, and I stand in awe, O LORD, of your work.  In our own time, revive it; in our own time, make it known."
(Habakkuk 3:2)

Every time I read the 3 short chapters of Habakkuk, I come away with a new 'gem.'  One of my all-time favorite passages in all of scripture is Habakkuk 3:17-19 (and I thought I'd be journaling about that today - wrong!)... and yet it was the 2nd verse of chapter 3 that spoke loudest to me today.

I picture a person of deep faith... yet weathered and worn from life.  Someone who knows about God, believe in God - probably even has a vital relationship WITH God... but recognizes God has been silent of late.  This is a person rooted & grounded in the great history of God's majesty and power... and yet desires that same experience now - in his time and era.  "In our own time, revive (your work); in our own time, make it known."

Those of us "in the church" stand in the stream of the great tradition of faith.  Once we've personally experienced God's presence & power, it's life-changing.  But not everyone has that experience.  There are many people today who LONG for that kind of personal experience of God.  Not necessarily a "parting the Red Sea" kind of thing - but something that echoes of Truth, Assurance, and Grace.

What might happen if this became our prayer today?  "In our time, revive your work, O Lord!"  Not to build up any particular church or denomination - but to connect people to The One who brings abundance to life!  Might I (we) be willing to pray that prayer on a regular basis?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

DO provoke me!

"And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
(Hebrews 10:24-25)

I have a tendency to get a bit over-competitive.  When I was in high school, it sometimes affected me during play (especially basketball).  I'd come to literally hate my opponent while we were playing.  I had to make a conscious decision to change that aspect of me.  I retained the competitive drive, but let go of the anger component (big help!).  I've noticed, however, that it's manifesting itself on occasion now as I'm watching my son's soccer games.

Ezra is a very talented striker, playing on a very talented club (Abunai 95).  They're currently playing in 2 leagues where they play teams that are 1-2 years older than they... and they do very well.  However, at some of the more evenly-matched competitions, I find myself getting riled at the following:
  1. What I perceive to be bad/unfair calls by the referees (or missed calls!)...
  2. Rude comments by the opposing fans...
  3. (Did I mention bad calls yet?)
I tend to revert to "encouraging sarcasm" - a precise & highly effective method of couching biting sarcasm in the guise of encouragement to our players.  This is never directed at the kids, mind you... but at the referees & opposing fans.  For example: "Don't worry Steve, maybe NEXT time the ref will call the foul!"

A week ago, with our team down 0-1 in the closing moments of the game, Ezra buried a blocked penalty kick into the back of the net for what should have been the game-tying score.  Instead, the ref blew the whistle signifying the end of the match just as he was kicking the ball.  It literally was a matter of 2-3 seconds from when his teammate took the PK, to when Ezra pounced on the blocked ball.  AND THE REF STILL BLEW THE WHISTLE.  No goal.  Game over.  I'd never seen anything like it (usually a ref will wait until the ball is out of immediate goal-scoring danger!).

Well, I was so frustrated that I stood up and shouted, "Merry Christmas (insert opponent team's name here)!!!!"  Well, some of the opposing parents got a bit upset at this and started shouting back at me (including telling me to "Shut up!").  Nothing came of it, of course... (except embarrassment to unnamed family members).

So when I read Hebrews 10 today... "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds"... I realized it was a message for me.  Will I "use my powers" (creative language skills!) for good or ill?  Will what I say bring encouragement or discouragement?  For the most part, I'm a very encouraging guy... but maybe I can stand a bit of improvement nonetheless (especially outside of my role as pastor).

How might YOU 'provoke' someone to love and good deeds today?

Friday, October 2, 2009

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)

The author of Hebrews spends chapter 7 talking about the great high priest Melchizedek from the time of Abraham.  In contrast, he presents Jesus - who surpasses even "The Great Mel."  What struck me as I was reading this today was the qualification... Jesus wasn't "born into" his priesthood (well, technically the whole Son-of-God thing might be construed this way, but let's put that thought aside for now).  He didn't get his title from his family line (which is how the priesthood was passed down back then - through the tribe of Levi!).  Instead, it was "the power of an indestructible life."  Wow.

An indestructible life... doesn't mean "impervious to harm," for Jesus was ultimately crucified.  Maybe Jesus' "indestructibility" refers to his focus... his passion... his purpose in life.  He knew who God was calling him to be.  He didn't let anyone push him off of or dissuade his resolve - even to the point of giving up his life out of love.

We're not Jesus, of course... but could we strive for "an indestructible life," too?  How might our lives echo Jesus' mission of love, grace, and acceptance of others?  Can we be grounded in a life that focuses on "giving ourselves away for the world"... and thereby find something that no one (or no thing) can ever take away?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

From East to West...

"The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities... as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us."
(Psalm 103:8-10, 12)

I'm going to prison today.  I'm starting a new once-a-month Bible study with some of the inmates at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu.  We'll be journeying through Matthew together.  I'm both excited and a little nervous.  I'm not at all worried about the environment... but rather, will this study be "real" to the men who will come?  Will it make a difference in their lives?  If it was purely up to my "brilliance" (or lack thereof), then who knows.  But the true power of Bible Study comes from the Spirit of God that speaks through the pages of Scripture - not the qualification/preparation of the leader.

Today's passage from Psalm 103 is a great message to keep in mind as I engage in this new ministry: Mercy.  Forgiveness.  Grace.  I'm reminded that this is Good News for me!  God doesn't ultimately deal with me according to my sin.  My sin has been removed, hallelujah!  As I begin to work with the men at the Detention Center, I go as a fellow sinner.  I go as one who needs God's grace just as much as anyone inside the facility.  I don't go to "impart wisdom" or morality or even faith.  I go to help connect others to God in new ways.

There's power in Scripture.  I can't wait to see how God shows up in prison... and teaches me new things about His amazing grace!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Choosing to let go...

"...but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntery and not something forced."
(Philemon 14)

Philemon is such an interesting letter/story.  Paul is writing to his friend-in-faith, Philemon.  The letter is delivered by Onesiumus - a man who used to be Philemon's slave, but ran away!  He became close friends with Paul.  So Paul sent him back to Philemon (as the law required), but asked that he willingly release Onesimus so he an come back and be part of Paul's ministry team.  (Can you imagine how that scene played out!?!)

In the letter, Paul writes that he could compel Philemon to release Onesimus... or, he could have  simply kept him and told Philemon that the situation with Onesimus has changed.  But instead he sent him back - so Philemon could choose to release him on his own.  Paul knew there is great power (and HEALING!) when one is allowed to choose to let go.  Philemon not only had to let go of Onesimus, but also of the great pain, bitterness, and resentment that he must have harbored in his heart towards him.

Which begs us to ask... What might we need to willingly let go of?  Control of relationships?  Past hurts?  Resentments?  Personal will?  What "voluntary good deed" might lead to healing, restoration, and new life... in us or in others?  Hmmm... maybe this runaway slave has something to teach us even today!?!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It even had a name!

"(Hezekiah) broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it, it was called Nehushtan."
(2 Kings 18:4)

So there's this interesting story in Numbers 21 about a time Moses was with the Israelites in the wilderness.  They were being even more "whiny" than usual, complaining about everything... so God sent a bunch of poisonous snakes into camp.  THAT sure got their attention!  People got really sick and looked to Moses to help save them.  Mo took it to God, and God suggested he make a bronze serpent... put it on a pole... and lift it high up in the air.  Then whenever someone gets bit by a snake, they can gave upon the bronze one, and God would heal them.

Well, over time, it seems this became an 'idol' in the land.  What had started as a symbolic reminder of God's healing power became a god to the people - they made offerings to it and even gave the snake a name: Nehushtan!  (Note: the serpent was also one of the symbols of the Ba'al religion of the neighboring Canaanites!)

I wonder if we've co-opted another one of God's symbolic reminders of Him today: the cross.  It also was used for healing - as Jesus was lifted high on the cross for all to see... and when we gaze upon his crucifixion with reverence, our sins are forgiven.  But Jesus should be the focus, not the cross.  Sometimes I think we in the church have come to elevate the cross even above Jesus!  It's easy to connect to a visible object like a cross.  We can put them no our walls, our desks, in our cars, around our necks, etc.  An yet, God calls us into a relationship with Him - not a cross.  Plus, unlike an inanimate object like a cross, Jesus actually impacts our life.  No more idols... (even Christian ones!).

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Cleaning

"In the first year of his reign, in the first month, (Hezekiah) opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them."
(2 Chronicles 19:3)

I absolutely love this guy!  2 Chronicles 29-31 tells about King Hezekiah... a 25-year old king of Judah who had a 29-year reign.  He was one of the "good guys" when it comes to Israel & Judah's kings.  One of his first acts as a king was to open up, clean out, restore and sanctify the Temple in Jerusalem - which had fallen into deep neglect over the years.  After a major cleansing, Hezekiah called all of the people to come and worship together.  And worship they did!  Hours upon hours of singing, prayer & offerings.  "And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because of what God had done for the peopel; for the thing had come about suddenly" (2 Chr. 29:36).

From here, the king tackled the festival of Passover - which also had been neglected over the years.  This was their time to remember God's saving history in their lives... and was a major step in restoring the people to a right relationship with God.  What's interesting as well is that Hezekiah suggested a humble and contrite attitude by the people of Judah might have an intercessory-effect for their brothers and sisters from the North (Israel) who were in captivity from the Assyrians.  So it had a sacrificial tone to it (30:9).

In the end, there was great joy, community, and fellowship in Judah.  "For since the time of Solomon son of King David of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem" (30:26).  Wow.  What a testimony!  And it all started from a little cleaning...

(I wonder what might need to be cleaned/cleansed in my life and circle of influence today?)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stupid & Senseless

"Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening... Have nothing to do with stupid & senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels."
(2 Timothy 2:14, 23)

I don't know if there's any deep spiritual insight here... I just resonated with these 2 verses from 2nd Timothy, chapter 2. Some people seem to be always looking for an argument or debate. I get it that people have passions and beliefs - many of which run quite deeply. And yet, oftentimes it seems the goal is more to "stir up the pot" and get others riled up. Congrats... it sure works. But it's not my style.

Paul tells Timothy to avoid this. As a leader, Paul knows there's a time and place to "take a stand" and "speak the truth in love." However, I dare say he recognizes that God wants him to be IN RELATIONSHIP with others, too! Getting frequently involved in "stupid and senseless controversies" tends to limit that quite often.

I guess I'd rather be "in relationship" with others, rather than to be "right" all the time... but that's just me (and maybe, Paul, too!).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Money, money, money...

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains."
(1 Timothy 6:10)

"Money makes the world go round," so the saying goes. In some ways, that's true. Without enough financial resources, life can be very hard. And yet, we here in the West probably have an inflated definition of what "enough" is.

This passage from 1 Timothy 6 is often misquoted as "money is the root of all evil." Paul didn't say that. Paul said THE LOVE OF MONEY is the root of all kinds of evil. Here's where so many of us get in trouble. Whether it's working ourselves to the extreme in order to gain as much money as possible (or working simply to get a higher-paying job)... or hoarding as much money as we can (with the idea that we can never have "too much"!)... we often have an unhealthy relationship with money.

How can we avoid the "love of money"? Give it all away. Maybe. Then again, it might just mean we're called to love something (or someONE) more! When God becomes our "all consuming passion" (not money), then we're freed up to use our money in whatever ways God directs. Helping a friend in need... sponsoring a poor child through Compassion International... giving to a local charity that works to alleviate poverty... supporting a missionary, etc. I dare say there's eternal value in that!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Speaking of..."

"Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters - with absolute purity."
(1 Timothy 5:1-2)

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!" So we sang as children. And yet, as we grew up, we realized that wasn't exactly true. Words can hurt. Words do hurt. Regularly.

Certain parts of the country seem to place a premium on respectful words - at least initially. "Southern hospitality" raised generations to say, "Yes ma'am, no sir." Here in Hawaii, our children are taught to call any older man "Uncle," and any older woman "Aunty" (whether they're related to us or not!). The military community teaches "Yes, sir!" and "No, ma'am"... and their children are (by and large) very respectful. Respectful speech is underrated.

The apostle Paul must have sensed that, too. He instructs Timothy to speak to everyone with the utmost respect - older men as fathers, older women as mothers, younger men as brothers, and younger women as sisters (of course, that assumes one already speaks with tenderness & respect to their family members!). But Paul adds one caveat on the end of these instructions - "with absolute purity." Maybe this is a remark meant to cover all 4 groups of people previously mentioned... but somehow I think it refers specifically to younger women. Could it be that men back in Timothy's day often said inappropriate things to younger women - especially when they found them attractive (like we do so frequently today!)?

What would it mean for us to speak with "absolute purity" to everyone today (especially to younger women)? Maybe people would come to feel valued & respected for who they were, not for how they looked? That's what God intends. We're all made in God's image... whether we're young & vivacious... or more "mature". Hmmmm... sounds like an easy enough assignment... but can we live it out? By the grace of God... YES!!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

What REALLY matters...

"On that day people will regard their Maker, and their eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel; they will not have regard for the altars, the work of their hands, and they will not look to what their own fingers have made, either the sacred poles or the altars of incense."
(Isaiah 17:7-8)

There's big business in religion. People and organizations spend BILLIONS every year on religious "things" - books, icons, jewelry, music, clothing, etc. Churches & faith communities invest tons of money in buildings and edifices, equipment & instruments - all for the sake of their faith (whatever faith that may be!).

Isaiah 17 speaks of a time when all the "religious stuff" that people focus on will be of no real importance. What WILL be important is that they come to seek the LORD. Directly. Now, I recognize the original context of this passage was addressed to those nations who worshiped other gods. And yet, this is a message that we in the Christian faith need to take seriously, too! No matter how many Christian t-shirts, crosses, CDs or Bible translations we may have... no matter how beautiful our churches may be... what really matters is that we seek God. Period. And, the Bible assures us (and I can attest to this fact!) that God will be found. Amen to that!

Friday, September 11, 2009

No excuses (and no celebration, either)!

"Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. I must bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he takes my side and executes judgment for me."
(Micah 7:8-9)

We seem to have a morbid fascination with people who have "fallen from grace." Whether it's a story of a celebrity who has gotten in trouble, a politician caught up in a scandal, a religious leader beset by 'moral failing,' an athlete who has (another) run-in with the law, etc. We love to watch/listen/read about them. But whenever WE'RE the ones on the 'hot seat,' it's a different story. We hate when others gloat over our misfortunes, don't we?

The prophet Micah wrote at a time when the nation of Israel was going through much difficulty. The northern tribes (Israel) had been over-run by the Assyrians. The southern tribes (Judah) were spared, but their time would soon come (from the Babylonians). Micah witnessed God's chastising of his people. Sin had ruled far too long. But instead of making excuses or fighting the punishment or asking "why me?" Micah accepted God's judgment. And yet, he didn't despair. He knew God would not abandon them. In God's timing, they'd be restored. In the meantime, God would be a light in their darkness. He could take his punishment & wait on the LORD.

We have a lot to learn from this. About how to react when we (and others) face difficulties. No excuses. And no celebration, either, when it falls upon others. Can we trust God's presence in our lives even amidst correction? (NOTE: not everything bad that happens is necessarily "punishment" or "judgment" from God. That's the message of the book of Job in the OT! But we must also come to grips with the fact that our actions have consequences... and sometimes (oftentimes?) what we do DOES come back to haunt us. I'm just saying...)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


"Make a joyful noise to the LORD all the earth."
(Psalm 100:1)

When it comes to the most well-known psalms, there's Psalm 23 ("The LORD is my shepherd...") and then there's a HUGE gap before whatever psalm comes next.  Psalm 100 might be that #2 psalm.  It's opening line is also quite memorable: "MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE TO THE LORD!"

As I read this today, my heart stopped on the words "joyful noise."  I wonder what the ratio between praising God and cursing God is these days?  Granted, most people who "use God's name in vain" probably aren't actually associating God with their curse.  It just rolls off the tongue, "God &@##$+!"  And yet it literally pains my heart every time I hear these words - either via movies, TV show, or in person (in fact, I've begun the practice of immediately asking God to forgive whomever said it... "they know not what they do!").

How frustrating it must be for God - who created us all - to have to hear a "grumbling noise" all of the time from us!  The One who gives us so much (of himself, even!) often gets our worst.  So the psalmist challenges us to be intentional about making a joyful noise to the LORD.  In the morning when we rise ("Oh God, time to get up already!??)... while we're driving (especially with those "less thoughtful" drivers on the roads!)... when our kids get us frustrated (we can ask God's blessing upon them, instead of... well, you know!)... when we come to worship - expecting God to meet us ("Enter his courts with praise!").  May we be more intentional about making joyful noises to the LORD... and may praise & joy be ever on our lips!  AMEN.

Friday, September 4, 2009


"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
(Isaiah 6:3)

It's like a scene from the classic late-80's Disney film, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids!" The prophet Isaiah had a vision in which he was standing before God. God was sitting on his throne in the temple. But the only part of God that actually fit in the temple was the hem of his robe. THE HEM! Can you imagine? (And I thought good 'ole Abraham Lincoln sitting down in his Washington DC memorial was big... but he's got nothing on Yahweh here!).

There are also angels buzzing about (of course)... and they speak, saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD... the whole earth is full of his glory." Pastor Rob Bell noted that the Hebrew word for 'glory' (KAVOD) literally means 'weight' or 'significance.' Wow. Glory has sorta become one of those 'spiritualized words' that we tend to set aside in the 'churchy' category of our lingo. But to say, "The whole earth is full of God's significance"... Wow!

I believe this is true. The whole earth IS filled with God's significance... it's just that most of the time we're not aware of it. Rainbows, sunsets, flowers, mountains, oceans... the smiles of children... the face of someone homeless... the whole earth is filled with God's significance. Most of the time, however, our eyes aren't trained to look for God's significance around us. That's too bad. I wonder how our day would change if we realized that we were staring at the hem of God's robe... right before our very eyes? Wow.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

To be a saint...

"Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ..."

(Philippians 1:27a)

Graham Greene wrote a short story called "The Power and the Glory." The main character is a seedy, alcoholic Catholic priest, who after living months as a fugitive is finally caught by the revolutionary Mexican government and condemned to be shot. On the evening before his execution, he sits in his cell with a flask of brandy to keep his courage up and thinks back over what seems to him the dingy failure of his life. "Tears poured down his face," Greene writes… "He was not at the moment afraid of damnation – even the fear of pain was in the background. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint, and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted – to be a saint."

For those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, this is the challenge, isn't it? On the one hand, we're all sinful creatures. No one's perfect. But on the other hand, we all have those moments when "a little self-restraint, and a little courage" could go a long, long way. As Christians, we believe the presence of the Holy Spirit (God with us, though unseen) can help us make wise and right decisions - IF we choose to listen... and respond! (Ah, there's the rub!)

Paul writes to the church in Philippi... encouraging them to live their lives "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." He could have called them to live as saints (he does that elsewhere), but then we might have heard that and dismissed it as impossible. Instead, simply lead a life worthy of the gospel. Maybe that's not so simple after all. It seems that even the most committed Christians have a hard time following that at times. And yet, by the grace of God... with a little self-restraint and a little courage... who knows what God might be able to do through us!?!?!

PRAYER: You know where my heart is, Lord... when it's on track and when it wanders. Keep me walking in your light... give me the courage to choose a little self-restraint when it's needed most. Thank you for the saints who have influenced my life over the years... and may I be that kind of influence to others. AMEN.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Scarred People

"Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.' After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side."
(John 20:19b-20a)

They'd abandoned him. Fled. Deserted. Ran in fear. And now they were locked away in hiding. Crushed with guilt, fear & uncertainty. So when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of his resurrection, he met a group of people in desperate need of consolation.

What was going through their minds that night, I wonder? "How could we have left him like that?" (Remembering Jesus' arrest, trial & crucifixion - but they were nowhere to be found!) "Is this his ghost, come back to haunt us?!?" "We don't deserve to live!"

Jesus knew. Everything. So the first words out of his mouth were: "Peace be with you!" NOT... "How could you?" or "I'm so disappointed..." or even, "If only..." But, "PEACE!" And then he showed them his scars from the crucifixion. He showed them the signs of the pain he had endured. Presumably to prove that he wasn't a ghost, but it was really him. And the scars changed everything. They knew it was Jesus. And they rejoiced!

I once heard a speaker say that likewise, God can use our scars and wounds to bring comfort to others in need. Which is kind of an amazing thing, don't you think? Those painful chapters from our own history... those times we either messed up big time... or got hurt by others... (or both!)... God can, down the road, use those experiences to bring comfort to others. If only we can get past the "why me?" stage. "Peace be with you," Jesus says.

No one likes scars. Whether external or internal, we know they're there. But God brings healing and new life to scarred people. We're all scarred people (sometimes even scared & scarred at the same time). "Peace be with you," he says TO us. "Peace be with you," he says THROUGH us. Wow.

Just imagine... how God might use your scars and wounds for good...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jonah the Drama Queen

"And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live."
(Jonah 4:3)

Success sucks. At least from Jonah's perspective. You remember Jonah, right? The guy who got swallowed by a whale (actually, the Bible says it was a 'big fish'). But do you remember WHY he got swallowed by some unnamed aquatic animal? God had tasked him to preach judgment to Nineveh - the wickedest city around. But Jonah ditched God (so he thought) and headed in the opposite direction - to a Spanish Club Med destination. God, however, doesn't get ditched easily... and caused a major sea storm to upset Jonahs' smooth sailing. Jonah convinced the crew to toss him overboard, believing it would appease God and stop the storm. Which it did! Hence, Jonah became fish chow.

But the "God who cannot be ditched" is also the "God whose plans cannot be thwarted." So after a 3-day 'time out,' leaving Jonah to sit and think about what he'd done (sound like something your mother would say?)... Jonah was then spotted wiping fish puke off himself on the beach. And then God called Jonah to go to Nineveh. Again. And this time (surprise!), Jonah went.
To say Jonah's heart wasn't quite in it would be an understatement. The best he could do was one 8-word sermon to the people of Nineveh: "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" No cross-cultural sensitivity. No attempt to teach proper behavior change. No hint of mercy or grace. Just simple, straight-forward destruction prediction. Period.
The problem was that people listened. Seriously. They believed God! They changed their ways. Fro the king to their pet sheep!! AND GOD CHANGED HIS MIND. No destruction plans. Period.

Which brings us back to Jonah. The immensely successful revival preacher was not pleased with these results. "What? They believed me?!? They repented? REALLY!?!?! Dang. Crap. That really sucks! JUST KILL ME NOW, O GOD! JUST KILL ME NOW!!!"

A few verses later in the story we find out this was why Jonah tried ditching God in the first place: he knew God's history with forgiveness & grace... and he didn't want those lousy Ninevites to have any part of it. None! Plus, now he looks stupid. Jonah predicted hellfire & destruction... and it ain't gonna happen. (And Jonah just hates looking stupid!)

Funny, isn't it... that we get so wrapped up in our ideas of good and evil... of right & wrong... of justice & mercy... of who's "worthy" of 2nd chances and who's not... that we become offended when God's grace and love trumps our good sense. "Just kill me now!" we cry out. "Seriously?" God asks us. Seriously!?!?

Maybe, just maybe, we can learn something from Jonah's misplaced 'righteous indignation.' Maybe it's not about us and our perspective... but that God might have a bigger picture in view. Maybe we can skip all of the drama, and leave it to God to sort out? Maybe...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Identity & Destiny

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table..."
(John 13:3)

I've been preaching a sermon series this month entitled, 'A Heart for the Poor.' We've been looking at how God feels about the poor and what the Bible says, as well. This past Sunday I delved into the root of poverty - with Wess Stafford's wonderful book, Too Small To Ignore as the basis for this teaching. He spoke about poverty being a collection of a variety of factors: economic, education, health, physical environment, socio-political, and spiritual. One of the off-shoots, quite often, is a sense of fatalism among the poor. It goes deeper than a feeling of helplessness - it moves towards the "I just don't matter" mentality.

One of the ways to combat this fatalism is to introduce people to the amazing love of God. Not in a "you-must-believe-this" way... but an "isn't-it-wonderful!?!" way. That ALL might come to believe the truth that God knows them, loves them, and has a plan for their lives.
As I was reading John 13 today, I was reminded of this in a strange way. A simple sentence in verse 3 stated that Jesus knew "he had come from God and was going to God." It made me stop and think. It's more than knowing "where you're from" and "where you're going." it's a deeper sense of identity (having come from God) and destiny (going to God).

Now sure, this was JESUS we're talking about: Son of God... Savior of the World... Lord Almighty, etc. We're not exactly in the same ballpark as he. But then again, all of us have indeed come from God (in our creation)... and when we give our lives to him, we will be going to God as well. So how then might this knowledge shape the rest of our days? Maybe giving us a new-found sense of confidence - confidence to live out whatever God is calling us to do?!? Maybe a renewed sense of purpose - that our lives do matter, and have eternal consequences. Maybe it's as simple as a deep assurance - an assurance that no matter what happens to us or what we experience (good or bad), that we are held in the hands of God (we've come from him and will be going to him)... and that we will NEVER BE ABANDONED!

Identity & destiny... what an amazing gift! AMEN.