Thursday, May 28, 2009

"I'M (not?) RICH!"

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation..."
(Luke 6:24).

I'm not rich. At least not compared to others I know. And yet, compared to most of the rest of the world, I'm extremely rich. Many, many people live on less than $2/day. I spend more than that on my oatcake every morning at Starbucks for breakfast. So it's with a bit of hesitation that I journal today on this passage from Jesus' Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6 (Matthew has Jesus give this very same teaching on a mountain, by the way).

The other night I showed a DVD teaching to the leaders of my church. It was by Tony Campolo, sociologist and professor at Eastern University in PA. Tony gave the talk this past March at the Hawaiian Islands' Ministries' "Honolulu 2009" conference. He spoke about wealth, the economy, and the Kingdom of God. But what was most powerful was his personal critique of how he had trusted in his wealth far more than he invested in the Kingdom. He was seduced by the dominant culture in which he lived. And he was now ashamed.

I've been thinking a lot about my "wealth." I'm not rich... and yet I am. Am I one who has come to trust (read "preserve") my wealth... so it becomes my "consolation"? Or am I open to releasing my wealth for the good of the Kingdom of God? Wow... it's probably easier said than done, isn't it?

PRAYER: God, you have blessed me with financial resources. I like to think I need to take care of myself and provide for my family. And yet, you call me to look out at the world around me that is hurting, dying, hungering, thirsting & in such great need. Help me to release the resources you've given... not hold on to them with a tight fist. I want YOU to be my consolation... not my (your!) resources. AMEN.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Whose agenda?

"And the crowds were looking for (Jesus); and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, 'I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also...'"
(Luke 4:42-43)

Jesus, off by himself, is "found out" by the crowds (who had been searching for him). Luke tells us that they "wanted to prevent him from leaving them." Wow. Sure they were glad he was with them, for he'd been preaching, healing & "casting out demons". They were being blessed, indeed. But to try and PREVENT Jesus from leaving THEM? Wow.

But we're not too different today, are we? We like to be "blessed," and want to keep that blessing coming. We feel God's presence and power every so often and want to remain in that experience. We even feel a bit "territorial" when it comes to the work of God - great when it happens to us, not so sure when others (other churches, denominations, faith communities, etc.) experience it.

But Jesus is not a commodity to be controlled. Instead of preventing him from leaving (as if!), they could have asked to be able to follow him wherever he was going. It comes down to our agenda vs. God's plans. We have such limited sight! Jesus knows there's a big world out there with a lot of hurting people who need to experience the power of the Kingdom of God. If we kept Jesus to ourselves (our own personal "fountain of life"), we'd be missing the whole reason why He came!

PRAYER: Expand my vision of Your ministry, Lord. Don't let me ever prevent You from doing what You need to be doing in this world... Go where You need to go... Be who You need to be. I'd be honored, though, if You'd let me come along, as You desire. AMEN.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"That's weak!"

"If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."
(2 Corinthians 11:30)

Those darn "super-apostles." Paul had started this church in Corinth (and many others like it elsewhere in the Mediterranean), but later some self-proclaimed super apostles came and sought to change the message Paul had rooted them in. Their case was made by a series of accomplishments they made sure the church knew about. And boy, it must have been impressive.

So Paul hears about it and is worries. Not worried that he'd no longer be "the man" in the eyes of the people in Corinth... but rather that these "new and improved" leaders would actually lead the church away from God! So he writes back to the people and starts boasting, too. Chapter 11, verses 21-29 list his boasts - including his beatings, imprisonments, whippings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger & thirstings, homelessness stints, and numerous dangers (with some near-death experiences!). Not a very "sexy" list of "accomplishments." Actually, they reveal his weaknesses. And that's exactly what he wants them to see. "I'll boast in the things that show my weakness," he writes. Why? Well, in the next chapter he'll explain it in more detail (see 2 Cor. 12:9), but suffice it to say he knows that it's not about him, and it's all about God!

In this world of resumes, awards, accomplishments & accolades, maybe we need to refocus on our weaknesses a little bit more. Maybe we need to take a step back and see how we're not all that we need to be, so we can be more open to how God might truly be able to use us. It sounds strange, I know... that God might be able to do more with us when we're not "all that and a bag of chips," but rather just a broken person open & ready to be whomever God calls us to be. For it truly isn't about us at all. It's all about God. That's not weak... that's true strrength! AMEN.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Up, not down

"Now, even if I boast a little too much of authority, which the LORD gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it."
(2 Corinthians 10:8)

Paul really loves the people of Corinth. He started a church in this thriving metropolis... this multicultural city that had all the temptations and trappings of any modern-day equivalent. His letters to the church there are recorded as 1st & 2nd Corinthians.

His love for them compelled him to speak the truth to them when they went astray, however. Given the fact that very few of us enjoy being corrected, some of the people took Paul's first letter quite harshly. Which prompted Paul to respond not just with reproof, but also with explanation. Here in the 10th chapter of his 2nd letter, Paul reminds them that he uses his authority to build them up, not tear them down. He's not trying to "put them in their place" or "bring down the hammer" of God's judgment. not at all. He's trying to strengthen them. Trying to correct their error (& sinful ways). Trying to make them more like Jesus.

What a great example for us when it comes to relating to others... especially within the church, and as people of faith. Are we trying to tear down our build up others, in the name of Christ? Even in correction, our words/actions should seek the latter. Lord help us all! AMEN.

Friday, May 15, 2009


"When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any related duty. He shall be free at home one year, to be happy with the wife whom he has married."
(Deuteronomy 24:5)

There are some pretty interesting laws found in the 3 chapters of Deuteronomy 22-24... tackling such subjects as: cross-dressing, roof construction, blended clothing, rape, wet dreams, designated "outhouse" areas, runaway slaves, charging interest, kidnapping, payday, and lost tools (to name just a few!). But I was fascinated by Deuteronomy 24:5 which allows for a newly married man to be released from army duty for a year (or at least from being sent out to war), so he can enjoy his marriage.

I'm guessing this was an expression of the harsh reality of the life of a soldier. The chances were good that he might not come back from a battle. So to honor the sacred relationship of marriage, the Israelites were given at least one year together when married (how romantic!).

Today, the vast majority of society are not soldiers. However, I wonder how the spirit of this law (honoring marriage in a newlywed couple) could be translated into modern times?
  • Would we prohibit men from frequenting night clubs, bars & parties without their newly wedded wives (and vice versa)... so as to avoid the dangerous temptations of flirtation & adultery?
  • Would we prohibit newlywed couples from having children during year one - so they can truly enjoy each other before having to care for a child (which radically changes every relationship)?
  • Would we prohibit any dangerous/risky behaviors (ie. alcohol, drug-use, speeding/racing, gang-involvement, etc.)... so as to better preserve the lives of these couples?
It's an interesting question, isn't it? But there's something to be said for a culture that embeds rules to help protect, preserve, & strengthen a newly-married couple. Now... what about going BEYOND year one?!?!?

PRAYER: Help me to put my relationship with Jody as a priority, Lord... safeguard my thoughts, words & actions to protect my marriage. And help me to encourage other marriages to be strengthened - in the first year and far beyond! AMEN.


[From May 14th]

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us."
(2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

Reconciliation. It presupposes two people have grown apart. Painfully. Damage has occurred. Reconciliation brings healing and restoration. That's god's "BIG PICTURE." Humankind has grown apart from God because of how we've grown apart from each other. No amount of "Turn from your sin" messages!" from the prophets had made a significant difference. We may have wanted to change, but often found ourselves sinking back into sin.

So God sent Jesus. To love. To live. To show us how we were created to relate to each other. And he came to forgive. To pardon. To reconcile. Everyone. The World. To Himself.

But that's not all. Now we're called to carry the torch. To share "the ministry of reconciliation" with others. Not only reonciliation with God, but also with one another. They go hand in hand. How might my day (life?) change if I made reocnicliation a priority? How about yours?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Generosity Commanded

"Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore comand you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.'"
(Deuteronomy 15:11)

I believe God created us to be generous. At our very best, we share. Freely. At our worst, we hoard. Oh, we may call it "saving"... or tell others we're working to "provide for our future"... we might even consider it being "frugal." But there's a very dangerous attraction to holding on to our resources, rather than releasing them to those in need.

God seems very clear about where He stands on this in Scripture. In Deuteronomy 15, as God is setting the ground rules for life in a community of faith that honors Him, God makes provisions for debt remission (every 7th year!), slave/servant freedom, and caring for the needy. "There will never cease to be some in need... I therefore command you, Open your hand to the poor & needy..." Wow. You can't get more clear than that, can you? I'm grateful for groups like Compassion International ( who help us live this out on a regular basis.

PRAYER: Gracious God, bless Mboya, my Compassion child in Kenya! Bless the children I met in the Philippines (like Jenny & the rest at Joyful Student Center!). help me to keep sharing with the poor & needy around me, Lord. Amen.


[from May 11, 2009]

"For we are not peddlers of God's word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in His presence."
(2 Corinthians 2:17)

Paul is traveling the Mediterranean, spreading the Gospel, and helping start new Christian communities. It was the beginning of the Church. Lots of exciting opportunities. But there were others "working the system," too. In fact, Paul often had to confront problems these "peddlers of God's word" caused by their "ministry" (whether well-intended or not). So here in 2 Corinthians, Paul testifies that he's speaking as a person of sincerity... sent from God, standing in God's presence.

I love that phrase. That's how I want to be spoken of - a person of sincerity, sent by God, standing in God's presence. More than having a big church, a well-known ministry, or even a reputation for being a powerful preacher... to be recognized as sincere, sent from and connected to God... that's where it's at!

PRAYER: Lord, save me from becoming a "peddler of God's word." Remind me that I'm not pushing a commodity, but rather encouraging a relationship with you. help lead others into Your Presence through me. AMEN.

3 Musketeers

[From May 5, 2009]

"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it."
(1 Corinthians 12:26)

The 3 Musketeers had a famous slogan: "All for one and one for all!" (at least I think it was from them!). They were a team. Together. What affected one affected all. Good or bad... they were in it together.

The church has a lot to learn from that. When Jesus was coming to the end of his time on earth, he prayed that his disciples (and all followers) might be ONE. In the time that has transpired since that prayer, we seem to have gone in the opposite direction. We've divided, split, fought, debated & splintered the Body of Christ. Oh sure, there very well may have been "good reasons" to do so at the time... but the results are still the same: division... less-than-unity.

Paul reminds us here in 1 Corinthians 12 that we are to rejoice whenever one among us is honored and suffer whenever one of us suffers. We need to stop competing with one another. Stop rejoicing when one who doesn't share our "theological persuasion" falls. Instead, whenever a pastor, church, denomination, or individual does well for the Kingdom, we should all rejoice! and pray! All the time!

May it be so with me. AMEN.