Friday, January 30, 2009

The "L" word

"And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you."
(1 Thessalonians 3:12)

"What the world needs now is love sweet love - no, not just for some, but for everyone!" So goes the once-popular song. How true it is even today, though.

As I sit here in Starbucks, eating breakfast and reflecting on the impact love can have, my thoughts move from the BIG STUFF to the small stuff. Big: countries & peoples are at war all over the world. Hatred, fear & suspicion abound. We use weapons to "protect our interests." How sad. I wonder how much effort we (the collective humankind "we") put into really getting to know each other before we lash out in violence? Small: Last night we attended a high school soccer playoff game. Sitting in and among supporters of the other team, we heard lots of angry words - directed at the referees, mainly, but also at the opposing teams. Sitting next to us was a man and his young son, a parent from the other school. He didn't shout or scream. We got talking with him about his other 2 sons who played on the soccer team. While other spectators were screaming, we talked. It could have been easy to slip into "hate mode" and feel nothing but animosity towards the other team during a hard-fought and tension filled game. But in the end, I couldn't. I came to know one family a little bit, at least. Is this an example of "love"? Maybe. Maybe a kind of love that's more attainable than the warm-fuzzy, goose-bumps-all-over romanticized love we normally think about.

Paul is calling the church in Thessolonica to abound in love for each other AND FOR ALL. Imagine how much would change in this world if we, as Christians, made it our policy to really love those within our own church. And then everyone else, too?! How would it change our Sunday mornings? Or the way we drive to work? How we view the poor in our midst? How we watch sporting events? How we relate to our neighbors? How we react to the nightly news?

"What the world needs now is love sweet love - no, not just for some, but for everyone!"

Monday, January 26, 2009

Inner Circle

"Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter & James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves."
(Matthew 17:1)

This is the start of one of the more "high profile" stories from Jesus' ministry: his transfiguration. But what piqued my curiosity/interest today wasn't the event itself (nor the "theological implications" of it, either). No, it was the opening scenario. Jesus knew something significant was about to transpire. So he took a few of his closest friends with him to experience it together: Peter & James (and James' brother, John... which leads me to think the first two were the closest to Jesus, while John became the "tag-a-long" guy, though this is simply speculation on my part).

So I started asking myself: Who are my "Transfiguration Friends"? Who are the 2 or 3 "inner circle" people that I include in my significant life events? I'd venture that many folks have numerous "friendly acquaintances"... but do we have a core of 2 or 3 really good friends that we are intentionally sharing our lives with? (Or maybe this is just a guy thing, since women seen to develop deeper friendships than us?!?) This is something I've been aware of for a while. Aside from Jody, I have to be very intentional to share myself with a few others. It takes work... and I'm a bit concerned about it. Not concerned that I have to work at it, but that I have to work to get 2 or 3 really close friends! I guess my personality is such that it's easy for me to move through life with many "friendly relationships." But I know I need to cultivate deeper relationships - consistently!

How about you?

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for the relationships in my life... especially those who might be considered part of my "inner circle." Compel me to invest the time and emotional energy into those (and other!) friendships. AMEN.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Deep Roots

"Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away."
(Matthew 13:5-6)

I'm totally not a "plant guy." Oh, I love looking at them - I just can't raise them worth a squat. I always seem to forget to water them (a task I've come to discover to be kinda essential for plants). But I was reading "The Parable of the Sower" today in Matthew 13, and got musing on "depth of soil" and root structures.

My prayer for the people of Aiea UMC (and all Christians, for that matter) is that they'd have "deep roots." Roots that pushed deep into the nurturing soil of faith... roots that sucked the life-giving water of the Word of God into their veins... roots that intertwined with the roots of other believers to provide stability amidst the extremities of life.

We're in the process of preparing to launch a satellite ministry at AUMC. Though we haven't given the green light yet to go full-speed ahead, we're square in the discernment process for sure! For me, the ultimate goal of a new satellite ministry is not to "grow the church." THE CHURCH doesn't need to grow (at least not the church as an "institution"). PEOPLE need to grow! People need the Lord. My goal is to help people connect to Jesus and grow in their faith! And I've been thinking a lot lately about how that occurs within a church. Unfortunately, I think churches (or the people within churches) too often have shallow roots. There's little depth to our soil. Regular worship is a vital component of faith development, but roots have to have depth; they need community. Specifically, small group community! That's why the core of our model/vision for this satellite ministry is centered on small groups (like house churches - networked together)... where Bible Study, faith-sharing, evangelism, worship, celebration, encouragement & accountability all meet on a regular basis.

This scripture passage also reminds me of the importance of MY OWN depth of soil and root structure. I don't want to "wither away" as the scorching heat of life comes. May I, too, keep focused on the power of Bible Study (individual & corporate)... the gift of community... and the rich soil that can be found when we're willing to truly invest our lives in the lives of others, for the sake of the Gospel.

So may it be, by the grace of God! AMEN.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Simple Plan

"From that time Jesus began to proclaim, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'"
(Matthew 4:17)

The first book in the New Testament begins with Jesus' ancestry... then his birth... followed by the danger from Herod's wrath & the escape to Egypt... then his move to Nazareth. All that happens in chapters one and two. By chapter three, Jesus is an adult, and we hear John the Baptist's message of preparation: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Mt. 3:2). Jesus come and is baptized by John. In chapter four, Jesus, fasting for forty days and nights in the wilderness, is tempted by the devil. THEN JESUS STARTS HIS 'OFFICIAL MINISTRY' in Galilee. And what are the first words out of his mouth (at least those recorded by the author?): "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (4:17). Same message as John (who, by the way, has now been arrested).

It's interesting that Jesus uses this same "sermon." REPENT! Turn away from your sins. We all need to hear this. We all stand in need of repentance. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME NEAR! John knew the Messiah was close. He was preparing the way. Jesus knew he was the Messiah. He was among them - near them - around them. Would they notice? Would it matter? Would they change?

We pastors spend hours and hours preparing sermons to preach. Sometimes it's enough to go back to the basics. The essentials. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." It's still near! Jesus is all around. God's Kingdom is all around - if only we have eyes to see.
So I need to repent. Over and over. And look for the Kingdom around me. Near. At hand. Sounds like a simple enough plan for today.

PRAYER: Thank you, God, for simple words. A simple plan. Forgive me for the many ways I fail in thought, word, speech and deed. Keep my eyes and heart focused on You and Your Kingdom. Today and everyday. AMEN.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What smells?

"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes form knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life."
(2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Paul uses a very interesting image to describe his presence among the people - a fragrance! My study notes say that when an emperor returned from a conquest triumphant, there would be a lot of incense burned as they walked in procession. But among Christians, Paul writes, WE are God's incense! God's fragrance! We are what other "smell" when it comes to God!

Feeling like you need to shower about now? Or put on a little bit more deodorant or perfume? No worries, says Paul, we are "the aroma of Christ to God" to the world. Wow! To those "along the way," like we are - seeking to follow Jesus, then our aroma is life-giving & sweet! To others, however, we smell like "death."

That troubled me a bit. I want to be "sweet-smelling" to everyone, whether they're a believer or not. But that's not how Paul puts it. No. We smell like death to those who are dying. Why? Maybe they can't smell sweetness at this point in their lives? Maybe they need the stench of death to shake them out of the rut they've come to live in? Maybe they need a scent so jarring that it cannot go unnoticed. (Like whenever a rat dies somewhere in my garage & I can smell it, but don't know where the smell is coming from! So I search & search until I find the source of the stink and dispose of the dead animal - because the smell is driving me crazy!). Whatever God needs to bring people back into relationship with him, I guess.

PRAYER: What smell am I giving off, Lord? I want my "scent" to be used by you for the good of the kingdom. Keep me close so I become the "aroma" you need me to be. AMEN.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Body Parts

[From Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009]

"But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior members, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another."
(I Corinthians 12:24b-25)

Paul talks about the Church as a body - a body with many parts ("members"). Each part is essential. Each needs to exercise the gifts they've been given for the body to work at its optimum. But Paul recognizes there are some "high profile" parts: eyes, hands, feet, etc. Parts that everyone sees and interacts with and knows. That may lead some to think of themselves as "inferior." But no! We "clothe" our lesser parts to give them more dignity and honor... something the more "high profile" parts don't need. Why? Paul says: "THAT THERE MAY BE NO DISSENSION WITHIN THE BODY... and everyone would have the SAME CARE for one another."
Which got me thinking about the church I'm a part of (recognizing we're just one portion of the overall Body of Christ). There are definitely "high profile" parts - none more than pastor! But if I follow Paul's logic, then I'm not the one who needs honor and accolades. I need to work at giving props to those "behind the scenes" folks whose gifts are just as crucial to the working of the body. It's not about glory and honor - it's about caring for each other!
PRAYER: You know, O God, how I loathe the expression, "It's all about me!" I pray that as a leader I will never get to the point where church, worship, faith and/or discipleship is all about me. Help me foster a sense of community where all feel honored & valued. AMEN.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Human Seal

"Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord."
(I Corinthians 9:1-2)

Evidently, Paul's authority was being questioned by some in Corinth - presumably those who came after Paul had left. Here in chapter 9, when he begins to state his case, he starts with the people of the Corinthian church itself! "You are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord."

Gone are the days when a seal was made on the outside of an envelope - a wax dripping with a particular mark that distinguished the sender. A king's seal was especially powerful. Anything with that seal meant the king sent it. Period. Later, people would stamp seals over their signatures (embossed, even!), again indicating authenticity. I guess the closest we have today might be a notary public's seal. Anyway, when challenged, Paul doesn't list his own accomplishments (at least not here at this time)... instead he points to the people whose lives he's impacted for the Lord. They are his seal. When others see them, they'll know the influence and mark Paul had. That's why he's an authentic apostle. Even if nobody else gives him credit for it. he knows. The people in Corinth know. And God, especially knows.

Which got me thinking... who are the "seals" in my life? Sure, as a pastor I may have had the opportunity to "officially" speak words of faith into people's lives (through sermons, Bible Study & pastoral care). But I dare say that my greatest seals would have to be my own family! My kids: Ezra & Emily. And Jody, too - we "seal" each other. We influence & impact each other's faith. But then there are the others, too, that I've been blessed to impact (whether I intended to or not). Maybe very few "religious" words were ever expressed (at least not overtly) - to soccer families, baseball families (when I coached), school kids & families (while I've volunteered while my kids were involved), Common Grace kids (Bradley & Ipu), etc. We all have countless relationships where we have potential influence & impact on the lives of others.

What kinds of seals are we leaving behind? May they truly be testimonies to God's power and place in our lives. Thanks be to God. AMEN.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Signs all around!

"The Pharisees came and began to argue with (Jesus), asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, 'Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.'"
(Mark 8:11-12)

It wasn't an uncommon question - either for then or now. "A sign, please!" They asked for a sign. It's understandable, right? To help us believe. But Jesus said no. "No sign will be given!" Sounds kinda harsh, doesn't it. Then again...
This passage comes directly after a pretty amazing event. Four thousand people were fed on seven loaves and a few small fish. Maybe the Pharisees weren't there. But maybe they heard about it! Maybe they also heard about other things Jesus did: the deaf man being healed, the Syrophoenician's daughter healed, Five thousand fed, Jesus' walking on water, the raising of Jairus' daughter, etc. Signs were happening all around. ALL AROUND!! And all they had to do was look. Then again, maybe they weren't really interested in looking. Verse 11 says they asked for a sign "to test him." So it wasn't for their faith... but rather a game. Hmmm... So Jesus doesn't play games, I see.
Which takes me back to the question about getting signs from God. God doesn't play games... but God does work all around. Maybe instead of asking for signs, we need to be asking for better eyesight! Better vision! Heart vision. Kingdom vision. God vision. Vision to see what God is already doing. Yah, that might be a good idea... for the Pharisee in all of us!
PRAYER: May I never ask something of You, LORD, because of a test. Open my eyes to see the many signs of Your work in the world that is already all around me. AMEN.