Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Timing is Everthing!

"When Moses told these words to all the Israelites, the people mourned greatly. They rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, 'Here we are. We will go up to the place that the LORD has promised, for we have sinned.' But Moses said, 'Why do you continue to transgress the command of the LORD? That will not succeed. Do not go up, for the Lord is not with you.'"
(Numbers 14:39-42a)

Faced with the opportunity to move into "the Promised Land," the Israelites chose a spirit of fear, trepidation, and timidity instead of trusting in God's power, grace & provision. Moses then told them God's consequences for their lack of faith: 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (1 year for every day they spied out the land)... and all of them would die... THEN God would take their children into the Promised Land.

When they heard that, they changed their minds. "No! Wait! We're sorry! We're ready to go now!!!" Um... hold it guys, that's too little, too late. God doesn't want you to go now anyway. Your hearts aren't in it! But they persisted, nonetheless. They "boldly" went in - and were soundly defeated. Why? GOD WASN'T WITH THEM. They missed the chance.

There's a saying that "timing is everything." That's especially true when it comes to God-things. God's timing is everything. We may make plans and set wonderful opportunities for ministry in place. But if we aren't prepared to follow God's timing, our labor is in vain. The challenge, of course, is to be able to discern God's timing and direction... which isn't always 'crystal clear.' I do believe, however, that God desires that we know his timing & direction... so He'll give us ample opportunity o hear. I hope!

PRAYER: Lord God, it's Your timing I seek - especially in terms of this satellite ministry proposal at Aiea UMC. Don't let me get locked into my schedule, at the expense of missing Yours! AMEN.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Like Grasshoppers

"So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land they had spied out, saying, 'The land we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim... and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them."
(Numbers 13:32-33)

God has led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt... through the wilderness... and they're poised to enter the land that GOD PROMISED THEM. Moses sent out 12 spies - leaders from each of the 12 tribes. They were to spend 40 days surveying the land... then come back with a report. They did just that - even bringing with them some of the fruit of the land! But the majority of the people who went felt overwhelmed by the impending endeavor. "The people are too strong. The towns are too fortified. There are BIG OBSTACLES ahead! We can't do it!"

Caleb, however, from the tribe of Issachar, disagreed. "Let's do it! We can overcome those obstacles!" The others didn't agree. In fact, they were quite intimidated about the proposal. Then they changed their original report to add that "the land devours its inhabitants" (interesting point, given the fact they saw people flourishing with plenty!). AND... (here's the real crux of the matter)... "to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them." Wow. Literally, "We felt so insignificant & helpless there." Double wow.

I do not think it's a coincidence that this scripture reading comes the day before our Administrative Council reviews the report of the steering committee that's been "surveying the landscape" of our satellite ministry proposal. It's an opportunity that I truly believe God has been preparing us for, as a church, over the past 3+ years. As we near the "border" of the "Promised Land" some folks seem to be overwhelmed by the challenges that lie ahead. "It'll cost too much. We don't have enough people willing to help. The plan is not clear. It's too uncertain. Many have failed in the past."

Yes, there will be challenges. But I believe (and so do many others) that God has indeed given us this amazing opportunity. The question is, will we allow ourselves to feel like grasshoppers - insignificant & unprepared against the daunting challenges that lie ahead? Or will we move ahead with bold faith, trusting where we feel God leading us?

(By the way, the general population of Israel listened to the majority (the "grasshoppers") and hesitated. God saw fit to not only remove all of them from leadership... but wait for 40 years until they all died off, before taking Caleb & the younger generation into the Promised Land. Which was God's call in the first place.)

I pray this church doesn't have to wait 40 years to begin what God's calling us to do today.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

THE question

"The LORD said to Moses, 'Is the LORD's power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.'"
(Numbers 11:23)

"Would you like a little cheese with that whine?" The Israelites were 'whine connoisseurs.' They loved grumbling and complaining. "Remember how good we had it back in Egypt? All that free fish, fruits & veggies?! THAT WAS THE LIFE!" they said. (They just forgot to mention the part about them being SLAVES in Egypt - oops!) "WE WANT MEAT!" came their cry. Sure, God had rescued them from bondage in Egypt, saved them from an advancing Egyptian army (armed with attack chariots, no less!), and promised them a land flowing with 'milk and honey.' That was all fine and dandy, but the lunch menu stunk! Seriously. Daily bread (aka "manna") just wasn't cutting it. Too boring. No variety. Who cares if it met all of their nutritional needs. Dull. "WE WANT MEAT!"

God then chooses to exercise His gift of irony. He tells Moses that He'll give them exactly what they want, all right! But they won't like it! And he's not going to give them just a one-time-serving, either? Nor 2 days... or 5 days... or 10 days... or even 20 days of meat. Nope. God's going to stuff them full of meat for 30 days! So much meat, in fact, that it'll be coming out their noses (eeuw!). Moses, who evidently wasn't very quick in the 'irony department,' began questioning God as to the practical realities of God's statement. "Seriously, God? A month of meat? You're joking right? That's not possible!"

And then God asks it THE question. It's almost as if He were waiting for just the right chance to prove Himself. "Is my power limited?" He asks Moses. (Umm... time to shut up, Moses. Don't answer that question. It's rhetorical!!!). The Hebrew phrase here literally means, "Is the Lord's hand too short?" Wow. That's a question you never want to hear God ask of Himself, after you and He have been talking! Just trust the answer is "No. Your power is NOT limited God!"

We're coming close to the end of a decision-making process at Aiea UMC. We've been prayerfully trying to discern whether God is leading us or not to start a new satellite ministry. It's a bold move - especially since our vision is to start with house churches - not a large corporate worship center. We've wrestled with a number of questions, issues, and risks... and it may all boil down to the issue of money. Are we ready to make a bold financial decision, even if we don't have all the money accounted for prior to starting? To some of us the task appears very daunting. And yet, could it be this passage today is a word of encouragement? "Is the Lord's power limited? Is His hand too short (to provide)?"

Personally... I don't think so!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mandatory rest!

[from 4/20/09]

"Then the land shall enjoy its sabbath years as long it lies desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its sabbath years."
(Leviticus 26:34)

Leviticus 26 is an interesting chapter. It's the "consequences chapter." God states the consequences for obeying Him and following His commands (aka "blessings"). It also lists an abundance of consequences (aka "penalties") for NOT following God.

Part of God's direction for the people is to treat the land well (including providing a sabbath rest for creation!). If the people sin, and keep sinning without repenting (and changing their actions), eventually the Israelites will be taken away as captives to a foreign land (which indeed happened to Israel: the Babylonian exile of 597-587BCE). When this happens, the land will get its sabbath rest. If the people don't willingly do it, it will happen nonetheless. That's part of the cycle God created!

I'm starting to prepare for my new sermon series: GREEN FAITH. Here's a great example of how God set up creation. Everything needs to rest, from time to time - even the land we live on. If we fail to adequately care for it, eventually it will rest when we're gone (or incapacitated), because we've brought destruction on ourselves for our own actions to creation. How fortunate if we learn to care for this world correctly from the start, eh?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Be brave. Have courage.

"That night the Lord stood near (Paul) and said, 'Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.'"
(Acts 23:11)

Paul is in trouble. He knew it would be dangerous coming back to Jerusalem. In fact, everyone connected to Paul warned him about what might happen there (especially since the Jewish leaders were so upset he'd left their fold to follow Christ!). He's been arrested on trumped up charges, imprisoned and abused. But his confidence has not wavered (at least it seems that way on the outside).

That night, while in custody, God comes to visit Paul. What's interesting to me is what God says to him. Short message. Not really that inspirational. He doesn't say, "Everything's going to be okay, don't worry." He doesn't say, "Fear not! I'll protect you!" He doesn't even say, "I'll be your strength." No, God says, "Keep up your courage! You're going to have to do this all over again in Rome." Maybe that's just what Paul needed, though.

Be brave. Have courage. Not exactly what we expect to hear from God in times of crisis. But God had a plan and knew how Paul would continue to be an instrument of the Kingdom. Others needed to hear his testimony in Rome. Be brave. Have courage. Might that be a word of us today, too... especially when we're in crisis? Instead of looking for God to "bail us out" or "keep us safe," maybe we need to be asking God for more courage. Wow... definitely worth pondering.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Life Blood

[From 4/15/09]

"For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement."
(Leviticus 17:11)

We live in a different time. Today, blood is something we reserve for horror movies, mainly. Back in the OT times, however, it was LIFE! Leviticus is all about the cultic worship practices of Israel - namely sacrificial offerings, rules & regulations. The book contains a number of specific sacrifices for specific sins. It's very detailed, too (ie. what kinds of animals to use, what to do with the parts & blood of said animals, carcass removal, etc.).

In chapters 16-17, Leviticus talks about The Day of Atonement. This was the one day every year when the general sins of everyone in Israel are universally forgiven. This involves both a sacrificial goat (amongst many other animals, too) and a "scape-goat" (who's released into the wilderness, carrying away the sins of the people!). When all of the rules and regs are explained, God goes on to talk about blood in general. Whenever an animal is killed, the people of God are not to consume the blood... but rather pour it out on the ground. Why? The Life is in the Blood! And it's the blood that makes the atonement effecacious (effective)!

This goes a long way in understanding the sacrificial theology of the crucifixion of Jesus. As the ultimate "unblemished" (ie. w/o sin) creature, Jesus' blood becomes the atoning sacrifice for the entire world. No more scape-goats needed.

Those of us who have spent any amount of time in church know this theology. It's almost like second-nature to us. However, we no longer live in a "sacrificial offering culture." So, to the outsider, it may seem a strange concept (to put it mildly), or even barbaric!

So what's a modern-day Christian to do? I think it's still a powerful image to know that God created us so that our life is found in our blood (it is "the gift of life," as the Blood Bank tells us!). And to know that the blood of Jesus, more than anyone else who came before or since, has incredible power and life! The only question is (in this week after Easter)... will we welcome it into our lives?

PRAYER: Awesome God, as we bask in the glow of this past Sunday's Easter festivities... help me to remember the incredible power that is available to me through the sacrificial death of Jesus. Not just to me, but to the whole world! Help me to value & treasure that gift... while at the same time, recognizing the life that is all around me, through the blood of my fellow humans. May I become one who helps direct people from life to LIFE! AMEN.

Young Assistant

[From 4-6-09]

"Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent."
(Exodus 33:11)

There's no doubt that Moses was THE MAN! He and God were close. It could even be argued that no one was closer to God in the OT than Moses. It's interesting to me that Moses had a "young assistant" that's mentioned throughout Exodus. This person was privy to many of the most intimate meetings between God & Moses. This man was Joshua.

It's intriguing that scripture mentions he's a "young" assistant. Why not simply assistant? I'd always assumed Mo picked Joshua because he was "the brightest and best" around. That could very well be. But he was also young. Did Moses know an older person might have jealously or rivalry issues... and a younger one might be more open to a mentoring role? Or was Moses intent on specifically raising up a young leader alongside his ministry?

A close friend of mine is a pastor of a large church. he's always had a "young assistant" working with him, since I've known him. This person is not his admin/secretary (He has another person for those duties). I'd always wondered why the need for a personal assistant in addition to a secretary (then again, this friend's church is about 4x as big as mine, so I may just not be aware of the volume of demands placed on the senior pastor of a large church)?

Anyway, while reading Exodus today, I was suddenly open to the realization that Moses was investing in the life of young Joshua. Moses was giving Josh the chance to "see leadership" and ministry in action. Sure, we know Joshua grew up to take over the leadership when Moses died, and he was an excellent leader. But was he born with excellence? Or might he have learned about excellence while working with Moses? (Or maybe a little of both!?!)

There seems to be incredible wisdom in having a "young assistant" in ministry (or in whatever you do as your main passion - even caring for a household). To invite someone into "your area of expertise" involves a certain amount of humility (not being focused only on "me"), grace, patience & vision. It requires transparency & trust, if done well. Will every 'young assistant' turn out to be a Joshua? Of course not. But what a wonderful opportunity to share one's experience with God as a leader with someone else (or whatever your specialty area is - do it from a standpoint of faith, too!)... in hopes they, too, might live a life in the Spirit!

"Brother, Saul!"

[From 4/4/09]

"So Ananaias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me...'"
(Acts 9:17)

What happens when the church's "Enemy No.1" suddenly has a conversion experience and joins the Jesus Movement - a movement he'd previously been vehemently persecuting? Well, few people trust him, that's what! Seriously, it took Barnabus' intercession to get the apostles to welcome Saul - who went on to do amazing work in Damascus & Jerusalem for the Believers.

Of course we know now that Saul (Paul!) would become arguably the most influential person in the NT (next to the Trinity, of course!). But in the beginning, all he had was his persecuting reputation. Which makes it even more interesting when we look at Ananias' story. When Saul was blinded by God on the road to Damascus, God appeared to Ananias and instructed him to go and minister to Saul. Of course he was reluctant, but God assured him this was all part of God's divine plan. So Ananias went, bringing words of grace and healing. The rest is history, as they say.

But Ananias brought something else to Saul. Something quite possibly even more powerful than physical healing. He brought a sincere welcome. Despite Saul's reputation, Ananias trusted God's instructions implicitly, and greeted the former rogue as "Brother Saul." BROTHER SAUL! It's easy to overlook just how amazing that greeting actually is. Ananias called this one who had persecuted, arrested, imprisoned & even witnessed public executions of Christians, 'Brother!' Wow. What a welcome! What healing that one word must have brought.

Too often we think in terms of "us vs. them." Christians vs. Non-Christians. Our denomination vs. other denominations. Our theological slant vs. other theological slants. Our church vs. other churches. We're great at separating. Not so great at uniting. But we, as the church... as the Body of Christ... were created for UNITY, not segregation.

How can I be an ambassador of "Brotherhood" (and "sisterhood"!)? How can I extend the grace & welcome to people who traditionally don't expect to be welcomed? Ah, that's the "Jesus part," isn't it!?!?

PRAYER: Thank you for calling me into communion & community with Your children all over the world, Lord. Help me to extend the hand and heart of grace to all. AMEN.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The intent of MY heart

"Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you."
(Acts 8:22)

Very cool story. There was a magician in Samaria (outside of Israel) named Simon who had "wowed" and amazed the people with his sleight of hand & tricks of illusion. He proclaimed himself to be great, and everyone spoke very highly of him (they even attributed God's power to being with him!). The apostle Philip came to Samaria one day - preaching, teaching, and healing in Jesus' Name. People believed, were baptized, and God did amazing things through Philip. Even Simon was impressed and he began hanging around Philip & Co. As word spread, Peter & John came to help Philip and they started laying hand on the new believers and empowering them with the gift of the Holy Spirit! Simon got really excited and offered the apostles money if they'd lay hands on him, so he could impart the Holy Spirit to others, too!

Now, it could be that Simon was truly being altruistic - thinking of the incredible good he could share with others if he was graced with the Holy Spirit. BUT... the disciples sensed a different motive: Greed. Power. Adulation. Did Simon think he could "franchise" God's power by giving the disciples silver to gain the Holy Spirit? It's not for sale, they said. Period.

What intrigued me today was Peter's response to Simon: "Repent... and pray that... if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you." Now granted, according to the law the fact that Simon had verbally offered a bribe (if you'd call it that), means he'd moved beyond intent to action. However, too often today people comment on how what really matters is one's actions - did one carry out a good or bad act? Jesus spoke about the condition of one's heart (re: lust/adultery, anger/murder, etc.). Peter echoes that here. Our intentions - whether we act on them or not - need to be holy.

Wow. I'm not wealthy magician able to bribe people of influence to get my way. But then again, there are, from time to time, intention in my heart that definitely need God's forgiveness - even if I never act out on those intentions! As we near the celebration of Easter, I think I need to spend a bit more time in personal repentance - heart repentance! For I truly want the intent of MY heart to be holy. AMEN.