Thursday, June 25, 2009


"In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem asking, 'Where is the child who has been born King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.' When King Herod heard this, he was frightened..."
(Matthew 2:1-3)

Today is "LEON Day" (Noel spelled backwards) - exactly 6 months from and 6 months before Christmas. How appropriate we get a portion of Matthew's birth narrative to read - the coming of the magi.

The person most affected by the wise men's journey is King Herod. He's built up a nice little kingdom here on the outskirts of the Holy Roman Empire. He's been granted rule by the Emperor, and doesn't want anything (or anyone) to spoil it. Thus, when the magi come speaking of a new king, Herod gets worried. Really worried! (This worry will eventually lead to the slaughter of numerous innocent boys under the age of two in Bethlehem. Ugh.)

As I was reading this today, a voice inside my heart asked if I was truly welcoming of the kingship of Jesus... or if I had fashioned a kingdom or two in my own heart that was afraid to be let go of? Illusions of power, control, self-sufficiency? The grippings of consumerism, the drive toward wealth & affluence? The temptations of lust, self-aggrandizement, and an over-bearing feeling that I'm more important that I actually am? Lord have mercy.

I cannot allow whatever "kingdoms" I may have accumulated to get in the way of the Lordship of Jesus. In the words of John the Baptist, "He must increase and I must decrease" (John 3:30). Sometime's that's easier said than done. Maybe on this "Leon Day," if I had one wish... it would be for the kingship of Christ to fully envelop me. So be it. AMEN.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sharing our own selves

[from June 17, '09]

"So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us."
(1 Thess. 2:8)

Paul helped launch ('birth') a number of Christian communities in the Mediterranean region. The church in Thessolonia was one. In this 2nd chapter of his first letter to them, Paul remarks about how much we (and the people he came with) love & care for the Thessalonians. First, of course, the message of the gospel. The life-changing and life-giving love of God. The core of Christianity. That was their first priority. But second, and I dare say JUST as important, they also shared themselves. It wasn't just a "traveling lecture series" meant to impart information only. For Christianity to function at its best, it needs to be done IN COMMUNITY. And to have true community, people must be willing to share themselves with others - openly & honestly.

At Aiea UMC, we need to grow deeper in our Christian community. There's just a core group that have entrusted themselves to others. Small group Bible Studies, Passion Groups, Youth Group & UMW. But we can do so much more. We need to convince the majority of the worshipers at church to make the commitment to invest themselves into the lives of others. The churches who live out their calling best seem to be the ones who share themselves with each other most intentionally.

I, too, need to make sure that I'm intentional about fostering my personal friendships/relationships. It's easy for me to have a lot of friends as pastor, but very few really close friends, with whom I share deeply. Over the past 3+ years I've striven to cultivate those deep relationships. May it continue.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bold Belief

"Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, 'Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will act for us; for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.'"
(1 Samuel 14:6)

The Israelites have just been soundly defeated. Their enemy, the Philistines, have set up a camp nearby... asserting their intimidating presence. Only 600 soldiers remained ready to fight for King Saul. The rest had gone home or fled. Jonathan, Saul's son, decides to take matters into his own hands... and personally ventures over to engage the Philistines in combat. No one, other than his armor bearer, knows what he's about to do. It turns out that Jonathan & the armor bearer kills 20 Philistine soldiers themselves! Then the rest of the Philistine camp were thrown into a panic. Saul noticed... and decided to press the advantage & attack with his troops (plus more came out of the woodwork to join in the battle, now that they had an advantage). It's a great "underdog" story.

But what interests me tonight especially is what Jonathan said prior to going over himself. "It may be the LORD will act for us; for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or few" (1 Sam. 14:6). First of all, Jonathan didn't know for sure whether God would protect and bless him or not. "It may be..." he simply said. He knew God COULD... but didn't know if God WOULD. Second, he believed that God was able to work with a big army or just a few. So size was not an issue. Power of the enemy was not an issue. Military skill & solider effectiveness was not an issue. What WAS the issue? God. Period.

Too often we get overwhelmed by "the facts" of a situation. Numbers, statistics, rankings, budgets, size, experience, accolades... you name it, we study it. Sometimes, though, we study ourselves into inactivity - like Saul's army did ("We can't attack the mighty Philistines, they're too powerful!"). But Jonathan believed God was able. He didn't know if God would... but he knew God could.

What situations in your life do you need to apply this principle of both faith? Not assuming or expecting God to save you... but believing He can?!? Bold belief. It can do amazing things.


[From 6-14-09]

"So Saul said, 'Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the offerings of well-being.' And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished... Samuel arrived... and said, 'What have you done?'"
(1 Samuel 13:9-11a)

Saul is made the first king of Israel. He gathers his troops to face a growing threat by the neighboring Philistines. Saul had 3K soldiers. The Philistines had more than 12x that amount! Seven days he waited with the Israelite troops, per the prophet Samuel's order (see 1 Samuel 10:8). The king started getting nervous. The people started slipping away from Saul's control. He felt intervention was needed. NOW!

So Saul took the role of the priest, and made the necessary burnt offerings required before any battle. He saw the strategic opportunity closing in front of him. The only problem was that he wasn't the priest. Samuel was. And Samuel had specifically told him to WAIT until he came. Wait! But Saul knew he had waited long enough. So he acted...

And in perfect Hollywood fashion, just as he finished the offering, guess who walked in the front door? Yep, Samuel. "What have you done!?!" he asked Saul. No amount of explaining could rectify the damage that was done. It wasn't about tactical advantages or military strategy at all. It was about obeying the priest's word. And patience. And knowing one's place. Saul, as King, had a big role... but not a blank check to do what he wanted. And he paid the price with his throne (not right away, but down the road, it would come to pass).

So what about us? How often do we try to "take matters into our own hands"? How frequently do we want to do something - even if it's not our responsibility (or even within our abilities!)? This story from 1 Samuel reminds us that we have to be aware of who God has called us to be... and who God has NOT called us to be. What God has called us to do, and what God has NOT called us to do. Be patient & wait. If God needs something to happen, He'll make it happen. Our job is to wait. Let's hope we actually follow this advice.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Far be it from me..."

[From 6-13-09]

"Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and right way."
(1 Samuel 12:23)

The Israelites have just reached a new stage in their relationship with God and each other. Despite the prophet Samuel's cautions, the people demanded a king to rule over them (previously God was thought to be their "king"!). Saul just led their army to a rousing victory, so the people rose in one accord to proclaim him king. But Samuel had to remind them of one key thing: both they and the king must follow God with all their hearts. Period.

But then Samuel said something else. "Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you" (1 Sam. 12:23). Wow. I've been wrestling for a while with the nagging feeling that my intercessory prayer life for my church is not where it should be. This passage confirms the significant role we "priests" have for our flocks.

Years ago I created a prayer corner in my office in Aiea... tucked away and out of sight, I've made a place where I can literally post all the prayer requests that come my way - so I'll be able to remember and pray for them. That was a big step in my intercessory prayer development. However, as time has passed, it's been a struggle to make the time to go into the prayer area to pray. All the while I feel guilty for not doing so. (NOTE: Of course I pray at other times in the day, as the Spirit moves, but not with the same specificity of prayers.)

So I've been thinking for a while that I might need to get a small notepad that I can transfer all of the prayer requests to, so I can have them with me all day in my backpack. Then I can be more intentional about praying specifically for my church & beyond.


PRAYER: Oh LORD, You've entrusted to me a great and important responsibility - to pray for the people, ministry & mission of Aiea UMC. Forgive me for having neglected to fulfill that duty to the utmost in the past. Renew my passion to and commitment for prayer. Now. Today. From here on out. So be it. AMEN.


[From 6-9-09]

"And the LORD said, 'Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day & night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them...'"

(Luke 18:6-8)

This parable of Jesus has always bothered me. There's a judge who doesn't fear God or respect people. A woman comes with her case. He refuses to hear it. She comes back again. He still refuses her. She never gives up. Eventually, in order for her to stop bugging him, he agrees to grant her request. Jesus says God is even more loving than this human judge. End of story.

I guess I've always lumped this in with the parable of the "Friend at Midnight" (who begs food from a neighbor at midnight when a visitor of his catches him unprepared)... and assumed these both were about persistence in prayer: Ask long (and hard) enough and you'll get it. But then there are those who ask long & hard and don't get their prayers answered... or ask for something they shouldn't be asking for in the first place.

But when I read the story this morning, one word jumped out at me: "JUSTICE!" The widow came to the judge saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent." And when the judge finally relented, he didn't say, 'Okay, you win, You get what you want.' No. He said he would grant her justice.

God is a big proponent of justice - at least when it comes between people. God is all about us working for justice among each other... doing what's right. Redressing the wrongs that have occurred. If we want to truly follow Jesus, then we, too, must be proponents of justice.

Fortunately, God is NOT a big proponent of justice when it comes to divine/human relationships. Instead of holding us constantly accountable for our sins against him, God repeatedly offers us GRACE & FORGIVENESS. We still have to be accountable to those whom we sin against, but God offers grace.

What a gift.

Him who works wonders

[From 6/4/09...]

"So Manoah took the kid with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to him who works wonders."
(Judges 13:19)

The story of Samson is the stuff of Hollywood (actually, more like an HBO mini-series!): flamboyant, excessive, action-packed, sexy, dangerous, and thrilling (note: Judges 14-16 tell the whole story, without pulling any punches!). But before that epic "gets good," Judges 13 tells about Samson's birth. Or, more specifically, his "annunciation."

An angel appears to a man named Manoah and his wife. They were childless. The angel promised them a son. At first they didn't know he was an angel. They wanted to shower him with hospitality,but instead he told them to make an offering to the LORD (13:16). When Manoah presented the burnt offering (13:19), the narrator tells us it was "to him who works wonders."

Now there's a name for god we don't hear as often as others (like LORD, Savior, Father, Master, King, Jehovah, etc.). "HIM WHO WORKS WONDERS." Which causes me to reflect back on my own life and experiences.... what are some of the "wonders" God has worked in and around me? What wonders have I witnessed in the world around me? As a pastor, among the various churches I've served? In people's lives... through relationships... in the midst of illness & disease... by changing hardened hearts.... etc. If I pause long enough, I come to see numerous instances of a God who works wonders.

What about you? Does that title for God ring true?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Say what ?!?

"Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me..."
(Psalm 50:23)
One of the most bizarre stories in all of the Bible occurs in Judges 11. Jephthah was shunned by his half-brothers because his mother was a prostitute. But because he was a strong warrior, while living in the wilderness, many "outlaws" gathered around & went with him on raids. One day his kinfolk sought him out and begged him to come back and lead them in battle against the Ammorites. He agreed. When "diplomatic negotiations" failed (v. 12-28), he prepared for battle.
In verse 29, the author states "the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah." As he was traveling to fight with his men, he decides to make a vow to God (v.30-31) - namely, that if God grants him success in battle, he's sacrifice to God whatever comes out of his house to greet him when he returns home. He was successful. But disaster struck when he got home. His daughter came out of the house to meet him first. Now, commentators say that ancient near eastern homes often had courtyards in them for their domesticated animals... so presumably, Jephthah expected one of THEM to greet him, not his daughter.

Why did this story make it into the Bible (especially considering the tragic ending of his daughter's willing sacrificial death)? I'm not sure. God never consented to human sacrifices in the OT. Never. He condemned the people of Israel for even thinking about following the child-sacrifice customs of their surrounding neighbors. What about Abraham & Isaac, you ask? Well, Abraham was halted from harming his son, and the author remarks that it was merely a question of Abe's faith at the time.

Maybe this is a caution against us trying to use/manipulate God. Think about it... the Spirit of the LORD was already with Jephthah. He didn't need to make that vow! But evidently, he wanted a greater assurance, so he tried bargaining with God. God doesn't want our bargains... He wants our thanksgiving (Psalm 50:23). We're so used to having to convince, cajole & talk people into doing stuff for us... .we've mistakenly assumed that God works the same way. WRONG!

So the next time I'm tempted to try and "get God on my side" for something... maybe I should stop and think for a moment first. Do I really need that? Or should I instead give thanks for all that God has already done for me (and leave whatever's going to happen to happen)?


Tuesday, June 2, 2009


[From Monday, June 1, 2009]

"Then the Israelite said to Gideon, 'Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also...' Gideon said to them, 'I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.'"
(Judges 8"22-23)

In just 3 chapters, Gideon went from an insecure, fearful, "regular Joe" to a powerful and successful warrior/leader. The change is all because of God... and Gideon knows it! So when the Israelite leaders came and asked (no, begged!) Gideon to be their ruler, he declined. They were ready to make his family a dynasty of rulers. But Gideon kept their focus where he thought it needed to be: "the LORD will rule over you."

That must have been a little more challenging to decline than Gideon let on (Maybe he had a while before he gave them his answer?!). The offer of power and authority is a strong temptress. Maybe Gideon still had traces of his former insecurity (thus, the decline)? Then again, maybe he had divine wisdom. Maybe he know how easy it is to lose focus on God?

It's even hard for those of us already in positions of church leadership to maintain that perspective. It's ultimately not about us. It's about God. And no leader worth his/her salt can lead with integrity without that understanding. At least not for very long.

PRAYER: Thank you God, for the wisdom of Gideon. For the call to keep YOU as our leader, no matter what our positions of authority or leadership are within the church, community & world. Help me to maintain that perspective, Lord. Help me to always remember that You are the One who leads. I'm just called to help others follow. AMEN.