Saturday, February 28, 2009

Open Door?!?

"I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name."
(Revelation 3:8)

What might God want to say to YOUR church? That's what 7 churches in Asia Minor are about to find out in the first 3 chapters of the very last book in the Bible: Revelation. God has written "letters" to 7 specific churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. If God had one thing to say to your church, what might it be? How might God need to call you (back?) to faithfulness?

Evidently, the church in Philadelphia had some kind of divine opportunity they were struggling with. Feeling like they were a small and feeble church, some must have questioned if they really should proceed with whatever this specific endeavor might be. While we don't know exactly what they were wrestling with, we do know that God wanted to encourage them. "I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut."

I think most of us who are followers of Jesus earnestly desire to know this. We want to be following God's guidance and direction, but sometimes (often?) aren't sure if an opportunity is of God or not. Such is the case right now for us at Aiea UMC. Over the past 3+ years it has felt as though God has been moving our congregation to a point where we are ready and able to start a new satellite ministry - reaching out to a new set of communities to help draw them into relationship with Jesus. The SPRC (the "HR dept." of a UMC) concurred... we got tentative approval from the Ad Council (ie. Church Board) to proceed... wrote a funding proposal... and received a UMC grant of 75% of our first year expenses! Now that it's time to give our final approval, however, the Ad Council isn't yet ready to do so. Questions and concerns still abound in the eyes of some. I, in turn, wonder if I've been hearing God correctly? Is this something that I'M interested in on my own, and truly haven't been following God's lead? Good question. Any time we think we know 100% what God's will truly is, we probably should be concerned. I'm not that arrogant.

But as I read these words in Revelation 3 this morning, it seemed to me that God might be wanting to encourage me (and our church at AUMC). If this is an "open door" given by the Lord, then no one will be able to shut it! If God has prepared the way for us to begin an endeavor that will connect people to him in real and powerful ways in the near future, who are we to oppose it?

What might God be saying to YOUR church?!?

PRAYER: Continue to guide and direct our steps, Lord, as we seek discernment in our potential satellite ministry. We want to do your will, not our own desires. We want to listen to your voice, not be overcome by our fears (or arrogance!). Come, Lord Jesus! AMEN.

Friday, February 27, 2009

God Forbid.

[From 2-26-09]

"And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He is revealed we may have ocnfidence and not be put to shame before Him at His coming."
(1 John 2:28)

Man... if you have a guilty conscience, 1 John is NOT the book to read! Actually, we all are sinful and fallen creatures. That's the ultimate reality of the human condition. But that's not how we were created. We were created in the image of God! We were called to be in relationship and fellowship with Him! Along the way, each of us have messed that up in one way or another.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday - the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, the 6-week period of spiritual refocusing and preparation for Easter. On Ash Wednesday especially, we remember that all of us have fallen short of God's glory and are in need of a Savior. The quest of Lent... (actually, the quest of being a Disciple - a Christ Follower)... is to "abide in Him"... to put our lives in step with the Master... so He might guide and direct us along the way.

As a pastor, I have an even greater responsibilty to abide in Christ. By no means am I perfect. Not at all. But I have been called to shepherd a congregation... to be a leaderr in a denomination... and to represent Jesus to all of the world, as an ordained minister. Wow. That's a big burdne to bear. I know I will not always live up to it. But God does not call me to be perfect - God calls me to be faithful. God calls me to abide in Him... turn every aspect of my life over to His care (relationships, work, personal life, thoughts/feelings, actions, conversations, etc.). I do not want to be "put to shame" before Him (as the author of our text puts it. Because if I'm put to shame as a pastor, then so is my church... my denomination... and ultimately, my Lord. Will I be any differnt than the countless others in the river of faith that have stumbled and put God to shame over the centuries? I don't know. I pray that won't be the case. Give me strength, Lord, to abide in You... all the time! AMEN.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


[From 2-21-09]

"On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, 'Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink'..."
(John 7:37-38)

All of Jerusalem is buzzing! It's one of the holy seasons - the week-long Festival of Booths. The Jewish community remembers and commemorates their epic 40 years of wandering in the desert, back in the day with Moses & Co. In that dry & barren land, they almost died of thirst, but God provided water for them from out of a rock. Just what they needed!

One of the rituals of this particular Jewish festival was the practice of carrying water from the Pool of Siloam in a golden pitcher to the Temple. Symbolically, this remembered God's provision, but also looked to the coming Messiah. On day #7, when the drama of the liturgy was at its peak, Jesus stood among them and proclaimed that the truly thirsty could come and drink... FROM HIM! Wow! What timing!! (It might be like Jesus appearing during the Super Bowl today... claiming to be the Ultimate Champion - should anyone want 'victory in life!')

What do we thirst for today? Honor... glory... fame... prosperity... love... purpose... meaning... security... acceptance... to be truly appreciated? Whatever it is we ultimately long for, it all PALES in comparison to what a life with Christ provides - whether we know it or not.

So really... what have I been "thirsting" for? What are my friends thirsting for? What is this world thirsting for? How might I be able to direct people towards the Living Water of Christ?


[from 2/19/09... sorry for the delay!]

"John was also baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was becoming abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized..."
(John 3:23)

Even though one of the 4 New Testament gospel writers is John, when I hear that name, my mind immediately adds "The Baptist." John the Baptist plays a central role in Jesus' life (and also in Scripture!). But what was interesting to me was this small verse in chapter 3. "Johnny B" came to Aenon near Salim "because water was becoming abundant there." A simple phrase. Easy to pass over (heck, I'd never noticed it before!). But so intriguing! Water was becoming abundant in this particular region, so that's where John went to baptize.

Was it an especially significant location, historically? No. Was it an especially spiritual location? Um... no. So what's the big deal? It had an abundance of water (evidently just recently, too). John found an abundance and set up his ministry there.

Which got me thinking... what sorts of "abundances" might be around me that I'm not aware of? As we prepare to launch a satellite ministry at AUMC (or at least move in that direction), I've been made aware of an abundance of people not connected to God (or a church!). Having returned from the Philippines, I've seen an abundance of poverty. My Christmas trip to the East Coast of the US reminded me that we have an abundance of good weather here in Hawaii. I've been blessed to have an abundance of joy in my life - for most of my life!

How might God be calling me to work with those? How might God be calling the church? How might be calling YOU to use your "abundances"?

Good question...

PRAYER: Open my eyes to the 'abundances' you've placed around me, Lord. Inspire me to respond appropriately... and passionately! AMEN.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Faith As Precious

[From 2-18-09]

"To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord."
(2 Peter 1:1-2)

I'm still processing my week-long trip to the Philippines. Despite the incredible poverty I saw, the image that remains strongest in my heart and mind is the faith of the children (and young adults) I met. I was thinking about such descriptive words for their faith as: transformational, grounded, essential, vital, pivotal, etc. But as soon as I read today's scripture passage, my heart leapt at the words from 2 Peter 1... "a faith as precious..." THAT'S IT! I saw "a faith as precious" in the faces of so many in the Philippines. A faith in Jesus as the center of their lives.

And so I echo the author's follow-up admonition: "May grace & peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." In an environment where so many have so little (at least materialistically), it is my sincere prayer that the grace and peace of God be theirs in abundance! And that their precious faith continue to abound.

In fact... it's my same prayer for you, too! AMEN.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Confidence & Hope

"Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward."
(Hebrews 10:35)

In the US, we are proud of our achievements. We recognize hard work, accomplishments, and personal endeavors. In fact, as children, we're often told that if we put our mind to something, we can accomplish anything. You might even say this is one of the bedrocks on which our country was founded.

In the 10th chapter of Hebrews, however, the author encourages the believers to persevere and endure, despite the numerous hardships they're experiencing. How? Not due to their own accomplishments and achievements... but because of their CONFIDENCE! Their confidence in Christ Jesus and the hope that comes from a life lived with him.

Christians in the US know about this hope, and it is encouraging to us as we go through trials and tribulations. But here in the Philippines (as I'm on a 1-week Compassion International trip), I've seen first-hand the hope and confidence that causes these people in poverty-stricken Davao to have great faith! From the rickety old shack of the Daborbors, where mother Josephine rejoiced in her "blessings"... to the incredible testimony of LDP alumni Raphonzel, whose whole family came to know the Lord through her experience of Compassion - a truth she holds firmly in her heart... a confidence in grace that can never be taken away... to the joy in the hearts of the many Compassion Center staff, who continue to make a difference in the lives of children day after day, because they know the hope and confidence that comes from knowing Jesus!

Wes Stafford, in his book Too Small To Ignore, remarks that HOPE is one of the greatest weapons in the fight against the downward spiral of poverty. Give a child a sense of hope and confidence that they are indeed loved, valued and important... and you can change the world!

"Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward." Maybe this is a message for me today?!? A reminder from the faithful saints of Davao. AMEN.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Loud Cries & Tears... and JOY!

"In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission."
(Hebrews 5:7)

The author of Romans spends quite a few chapters comparing human priests with Jesus, our high priest. But instead of immediately contrasting the two, he goes out of his way to show the humanity of Jesus... how Jesus offered up not only prayers & supplications, but "loud cries & tears," too. Jesus wasn't just "playing human." He wasn't just going through the motions, biding his time until he was once again exalted in God's presence. No. He was human. Completely. And he was moved by what he saw and who he met.

In the messiness of life, if one's heart is open, soft & available to the reality of the world around us, "loud cries and tears" often flow. I'm here in the Philippines now as a part of a Compassion International trip of pastors. Yesterday we visited a couple of sites... met many children and mothers... saw the joy in their eyes... heard stories of hope, grace & love. It was so encouraging. Then we went to 'home visits.' We traveled on foot to one of the houses where a compassion project child lived. There were 8 separate groups.

My group went to the house of Stephine Daborbor. He's a one-year-old boy in the Child Survival Program. his mom, Josephine, has TB. She's skinny & malnourished - but full of the love of God and love for her children. We walked down a narrow row of shanty houses... then turned through a 2 ft. wide walkway to the Daborbor's home. When we stepped inside, I felt as though I had to be extra careful where I stepped, or I might fall through their floor! It was made of plywood & loose boards... with a little contact paper for covering. Disjointed pieces of tin provided a roof over their heads. It was quite possibly only 6 ft. by 8 ft. total. They had a side room - approximately 4 ft. by 8 ft. Seven people lived there. They had a sink where water came out. No lights. A small table. A cabinet. Plastic "kiddie chairs" to sit on. A water cooler.
I looked around and had a hard time believing this was a "home" where people actually paid rent (approximately 1000 pesos/month - or about $22!). They slept on the floor. No beds. Blankets? Not sure. Grandma sat on the floor in the "side room," because her legs wouldn't permit her to stand. The smells of raw sewage & trash dumped outside rose into the house. Poverty lived here. That's for sure.

I imagine that Jesus, as he lives here with the Daborbors, spends time talking to God about them with "loud cries and tears." I'm sure his heart breaks for Josephine and her health... for "big brother" Johneric, 8 years old, who has as gentle and loving a spirit as I've ever seen in an 8 year old boy (and sometimes, I was told, when Josephine is too sick to take Stephine to the Compassion CSP center, Johneric skips school so he can take his little brother to get a hot meal and "TLC" from the Compassion staff!)... for Stephine himself, who actually looks strong and healthy, thanks to the feeding program at the CSP. And, praise God, neither of those boys have contracted TB from their mother (though next week, Stephine has another blood test).

But despite the impoverished conditions, I think Jesus also spends much time in joy, laughter and love at the Daborbor's. I left not feeling depressed, but uplifted! I could sense the incredible spirit of hope that dwelt there. I wanted to fall down and worship the God of the Universe... who is High and Exalted... yet chooses to live among "the least of these" here in this Davao neighborhood. Josephine made sure we knew how blessed she felt, and how much she wanted others to experience what she and her family has! Wow.

I left Josephine's HOME (yes it sure was!) reminded why I've been called to be a "priest." To share loud cries & tears as I encounter them among God's children (of all ages)... but also the share in the incredible joy of a life lived with the Savior! Amazing...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Redemption Timing

"Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother..."
(Philemon 1:15-16)

Interesting scenario we've got here: Onesimus was a servant of Philemon's... who, for whatever reason, ran away from his master. Sometime later, Onesimus hooked up with Paul - the guy who originally helped shepherd/disciple Philemon. The two of them hit it off and Onesimus became quite a blessing to Paul while in prison.

Now Paul is sending Onesimus back to his master... but with a request: that Philemon might officially release this run-away slave into Paul's full service. It's a bold request, undoubtedly due to the fact that Philemon was probably still quite upset at Onesimus (and put out by his abandonment). Nevertheless, Paul has a unique perspective on it. "Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while" so that the two of them might now have the kind of relationship they NEVER had before - one of "beloved brotherhood."

I just finished reading THE SHACK. What a powerful book! SO many wonderful lessons from scripture are illuminated through that profound story. One of which, I felt, was trying to look at a difficult situation from God's perspective (rather than our limited one). There are so many things we can't see or know about what's happening now. And God can cause any seemingly bad situation to work for good! It doesn't mean God causes the "bad" to happen, but anything can be redeemed.

I believe that's what Paul was alluding to. God could redeem Onesimus' disobedience and disertion... if only Philemon would forgive him, welcome him back, and then release him to Paul.

Might there be something you need God's redemption for?

PRAYER: I often have no clue about why things happen the way they do, Lord. It's not really necessary for me to know all the time, either. Help me to trust that indeed you work all things for GOOD! Amen.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's all Good! (aka "Bon Appetite!")

[From Monday, Feb. 9]

"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God's word and by prayer."
(1 Timothy 4:4-5)

Back in the day, one of the controversies the early church had was the consumption of food that had been previously offered as sacrifice to idols. After being presented to idols, merchants would "re-sell" offerings to the public. This became a theological stumbling block to some Christians. If they ate those foods, would they be legitimizing those idols? Would they be subjecting themselves to outside ("demonic"?) influences? Paul said, "Absolutely not!!!" He even reminds Timothy here that as long as food is received with thanksgiving and prayer, it's all good!

Two quick thoughts this morning: 1) Grace before meals is more than just a perfunctory action that "should" be done. Could it be the very act of praying over food serves as a sanctifying blessing (rather than simply God wants to hear to feel like we're appreciative enough)? Could it be that God indeed blesses the food when we pray over it!?!? Literally!!!??? 2) I leave for the Philippines tomorrow for a 1-week mission trip with Compassion International. I'm sure we'll have the chance to eat some rather "exotic" foods. Provided things are prepared in sanitary ways, there's nothing I should consider unclean and not eat (or at least try!)... no matter how "non-traditional" it may seem to my good taste. It's all good, Paul reminds me. Give thanks and ask God's blessing!

PRAYER: Help me to take my prayers before meals more seriously, Lord. Not that I didn't take them seriously before... but let me pray expecting You to simultaneously bless the food we'll be eating! Thank you for all of your blessings, and for providing me with food to eat, whenever I want it. Pour out your compassion on those who are not as fortunate today. AMEN.

Profit from Giving

[From Saturday, Feb. 7th]

"For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough..."
(Philippians 4:17-18)

We all know the saying, "It's more blessed to give than to receive." Well, here Paul reinforces that sentiment as he remembers the many times the church in Philippi gave generously to his ministry. "Not that I asked for it," Paul professes... nonetheless, they gave. But here's the cool part - Paul mentions "the profit accumulates to your account," meaning there's an intrinsic value that comes from giving to others!

I remember getting to know a rather "quirky" woman in Hilo when I was pastor. She'd spent time living in Israel, teaching English. She told me how beggars played a crucial role in modern Israelite society. Not because they needed charity (which, in fact, they did)... but because they provided an opportunity for OTHERS to be generous! And God somehow knew the value that comes from us thinking about the immediate needs of others. When we give, our spiritual accounts "accumulate profit." This does not "earn" us any rewards (our God is a God of grace, not merit!)... but we become better people (better humans!) along the way.

PRAYER: Continue to teach me the joy in generosity, Lord! Open my eyes and heart to see opportunities to give all around me. AMEN.

Friday, February 6, 2009

100% Whole

"Happy are those who keep His decrees, who seek Him with their whole heart..."
(Psalm 119:2)

My dad used to tell me "not to do anything halfway." If it's going to be done, do it correctly, he'd say. Psalm 119 begins by applauding those who seek God "with their whole heart." These people don't go halfway in their faith and devotion, but give ALL of their passion to the Lord.
Let's just say up front, this is not a call to extreme religious fanaticism (at least not in my book!). Rather, it's a call to give God our full attention... our time, our energy, our thoughts, our speech, our love. "No duh!" you say? "Everyone knows that!" you say? Maybe. But I doubt we truly comprehend what that means.

OUR WHOLE HEART. Is there anything I give my whole heart to? I'd like to think my marriage and parenting would fit... but I know there are times I'm not 100% "present" in these areas - rather distracted by my own agenda & plans. Forgive me, Lord. You might think I give my whole heart to sports... which might be true at times, but definitely not the majority of my time!

What would it mean to seek God with my whole heart, all the time? I daresay I'd be a better husband, father, friend & pastor if this happened more! Does it mean I have to constantly talk about my faith and read my Bible 24-7? Of course not. But I bet it has something to do with my focus & attention... and something to do with my goals/objectives in relationships... and something to do with how I use my time & money...

Wow... just think...

PRAYER: I want to give you my whole heart, God... 100%... not just a portion or half... but all! Refocus me. Reform me. Reshape me. Recenter me. So I can reflect You in all I say and do. AMEN.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Steinbeck, Han Solo & God

"Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we all can ask or imagine, to him be glory int he church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
(Ephesians 3:20-21)

"The best laid plans of mice and men," the famous quote by Scottish author Robert Burns goes. John Steinbeck turned that one line into an entire book! Another, less storied (but equally profound) quote says, "If you want to see God laugh, tell Him your plans." It's no secret that human plans are often less than fool-proof.

Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, remarks (in the midst of a mini-benediction) that God is able to accomplish "FAR MORE THAN WE CAN ASK OR IMAGINE" in us! Wow!! I'm reminded of Han Solo in Star Wars, when told by Luke Skywalker that Princess Leia (whom Luke was trying to get Han's help in saving) was rich "beyond what he could imagine," replied, "I don't know... I can imagine quite a bit!" And yet, says Paul, we can't even imagine what plans God has for us and what God can accomplish.

Which starts me thinking: satellite ministry proposal at AUMC - how might God accomplish far more than we're imagining now? or in my marriage? or as a parent (knowing the prayer I have for my kids)? with my upcoming trip to the Philippines? WOW. What does it mean for me to believe that despite my best plans/intentions, that God can accomplish far more!?!? I think it takes a bit of the pressure off me to "perform" at certain levels... and calls me to invest more in the faith department.

PRAYER: Come, Lord Jesus... Accomplish what You will in my life, family & ministry! AMEN.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Others first!

"We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor."
(Romans 15:1-2)

Imagine a world where it was normal for someone to think more about someone else, than themselves. Not in a self-depreciating & unhealthy way... but in a putting-others-first, supporting way. Imagine a community where people went out of their way to find how to encourage and build up one another. Where helping someone else grow, develop and mature was more important than personal advancement. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?!?

Paul, writing to the church in Rome, instructs the believers to live like this. Wow! In our best moments, this is how we Christians live out our faith. Unfortunately, there are also many, many moments we don't live like this.

Who can I encourage and build up today? My children & my wife, yes! My co-workers, sure! The two youth I'll go watch play in the state soccer tournament today, yup! The church members I'll visit this afternoon, uh-huh! Someone I don't even know I'll encounter yet today? Sure! How about you?

PRAYER: Lord, make me ready to be a blessing to others today. AMEN!

"But test everything!"

[NOTE: This was from Saturday, Jan. 31]

"Do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything..."
(1 Thessalonians 5:20-21a)

"Because I said so!" It's a phrase most parents have spoken to their children at one time or another. We want to be honored, obeyed and trusted... even when we can't think of any better justification. The writer of 1st Thessalonians admonishes the church in Thessolonica to listen to the prophets - those messengers of God, recorded in Scripture, who have come before to call us to faithfulness. They are, indeed, our spiritual mothers and fathers.

But that's not the end. It's not a "believe because I said so" command. Do not despise the words of the prophets, But test everything! What a radical admonition. To say this is to believe the Holy Spirit (God's unseen presence in our midst today) can help us confirm truths found in scripture. To say this is to believe that God gave each of us a mind to think with and reason with. To say this is not to believe blindly just because someone said it or wrote it in scripture... but rather to actively search for divine confirmation of the TRUTH! Wow.

PRAYER: Lord, you call me to rely on the words of the prophets of days gone by. So be it. Thank you for their witness. And may Your spirit help me confirm these truths in my life, so I might have increased confidence in what you're calling me to do and be! AMEN.