Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Both great & small...

"To this day I have had help from God, and so I stand here, testifying to both small & great..."
(Acts 26:22)

Paul is imprisoned and needing to state his case before rulers.  He's reiterated his story numerous times to different authorities.  Now, before King Agrippa, Paul goes into a bit more detail about his mission & ministry.  Among the things he says comes this little tidbit from Acts 26:22...  a simple statement that he testifies to God's help - "both great & small."

It's easy to testify to and give thanks for the BIG THINGS that God does... recovery from a major illness, healing of relationships, protection during an accident, etc.  But how often do we testify to the little things God does in our lives?  Those things that others might classify (or dismiss!) as "random," or "insignificant," or "mundane"?  It's different if we are looking for them through GRATEFUL EYES!

Prayer: Lord, help me to see the little things you do in my life... and when I do, to give thanks and tell someone about You!  For you are my Help and my Fortress!  AMEN.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


"While they were worshipping the LORD and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas & Saul for the work to which I have called them.'"
(Acts 13:2)

There were 5 of them.  Luke describes them as "prophets & teachers."  I'm sure they were also friends.  Were they a regular "small group" who'd gather together, or was this a one time thing?  I'm not sure.  But they were worshipping together "...and fasting."

"...AND FASTING" isn't something you hear much about anymore these days.  In this world of fast-food, take-out menus, and snack-sized easy-to-carry treats, we in the US have an obscene amount of food available to us.  Sure, there are some folks who struggle financially, so are not able to access that food like the rest of us.  But for the most part, we can eat anytime we desire.

That's why fasting seems so foreign.  Jesus taught that we "do not live by bread alone," but we've been weary to embrace that truth.  Some have continued the ancient art of fasting (as a spiritual discipline), but the rest of us seem too reluctant to give up our appetites (or at least put them on hold for a bit!).

And yet, could it be that God speaks more when we're living sacrifically?  Our passage today from Acts 13 seems to indicate so.  Fasting (if even for a meal or two) opens our spirit to receive more of God's grace & communication.  Maybe this is a "gift" I can give myself this Christmas Season... sacrificing a meal (or two) to spend time seeking a word from the Lord.

Want to join me?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Awake, my soul!"

"Awake, my soul!"
(Psalm 108:1)

I've become a big fan of MUMFORD & SONS recently.  This group from the UK has a very compelling sound... but with even more compelling lyrics!  Their project, "Sigh No More" is an amazing album.  One of the songs on that recording is called "AWAKE MY SOUL." 

The song starts rather choppy & syncopated, reflecting the inner condition of a person who is troubled, conflicted & uneasy.  The chorus changes, however. It's grand, sweeping & uplifting.  "Awake, my soul!  Awake, my soul!  Awake, my soul!  You were made to meet your maker.  You were made to meet your maker."

Usually we think of the phrase "meeting your maker" as an expression of death.  But I see it in this song as an expression of LIFE!  We were made to be alive... to life, love, and to God!  Too often we're content to "get by" or "cruise" through life... sort of like autopilot.  We need to be reminded that our souls need to be awakened.

So when I read Psalm 108 today in my devotions, these three simple words wrapped their hands around my heart: 'AWAKE MY SOUL!'  I need to hear that.  I'm guessing you might, too.

There's one other line from Mumford & Sons' song that I wanted to share.  "In these bodies we live, in these bodies we die / Where you invest your love, you invest your life."  May we invest in the One who Created, Redeemed, and Sustains us!  Awake, my soul!!!  AMEN.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


"When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, 'You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?'"
(Acts 3:12)

Peter & John are on their way inside the temple and they see a lame beggar.  They offer him healing in Jesus' name, and he is healed!  He then follows them inside, praising God.  It causes quite a stir (as you could well imagine), because everyone knows this guy from passing him all the time!  Peter uses the attention to preach.  He begins by making sure God gets the credit.  "Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we made him well?"

How humble & insightful.  It's not our power, but God's!  And we're not "all that and a bag of chips," either.  We're not "holier-than-thou."  We're not super-believers.  It's all God.  It's all Jesus.  We're just the instruments God chooses to use.

We pastors have a lot to learn form this (and it's not that we can heal like Peter & John, if only we'll have enough faith).  I think it's human nature to want to take credit for all the good stuff we're a part of.  But really, it's all God.  Seriously.  I'll try to do a better job of giving credit where credit is due!

Simple Gifts

[From 12/15/10]

"40 years you sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell."
(Nehemiah 9:21)

Ezra is recounting God's saving history - from the beginning of creation to the present.  When he gets to the Exodus story he makes an interesting insight.  Most recall the plagues, crossing the Red Sea, the pillars of fire & cloud, and manna.  But Ezra adds one more blessing: "their clothes didn't wear out and their feet didn't swell."  What an odd thing to say.  Why even mention it?

My wife tells me how frustrating (and painful!) it is when her feet swell (on airplanes or after a long day's work).  All she wants to do is kick off her shoes and get a foot massage.  With all the wandering the Israelites did in the wilderness (40 years worth!), it should have led to much "feet swelling."  But it didn't.  God gave them a simple gift.

We have 24-hour stores like Wal-Mart today, should we ever need something.  We order off the internet anytime we feel like it.  We shop the "after-Christmas sales."  It's no big deal when our clothes wear out.  The same thing could not be said for the Israelites in the wilderness.  God's simple gift of clothes that didn't need replacing was a gift of grace!

What "simple gifts" have God given you lately that you need to give thanks for?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bad advice... ignored!

"Then I sent to him, saying, 'No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your mind" - for they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, 'Their hands will drop from work, and it will not be done.'  But now, O God, strengthen my hands."
(Nehemiah 6:6-8)

Nehemiah is coordinating the Jerusalem wall rebuilding project, and it's going great!  Word spreads.  People outside Israel get worried.  Some send a deceitful letter asking to meet somewhere.  Nehemiah sees through it and politely declines.  Three more times they asked to meet with him.  Three more times he refuses.  Then they send a letter saying they're about to report to the king of Babylon Nehemiah's plan to rebel from his rule, and appoint himself king!  But they'd be open to "discuss the matter" before alerting the King.  Nehemiah knew it was another ploy to deceive.  He again declines.  Finally, when visiting a "prophet" in Israel, he's told that his life is in grave danger.  He was told to flee to the inner sanctuary in the Temple for protection.  He did not.  He knew that was the wrong thing to do, no matter how serious things were (only priests were allowed to go into the inner sanctuary in the Temple!).  It was another attempt to get to Nehemiah.  Through it all, Nehemiah asked for God's strength.

Talk about opposition.  Nehemiah did a great job of staying focused on his God-given task without being discouraged or side tracked.  He was polite but firm.  He was wise.  We can learn from his example - especially those of us in positions of leadership.  Sometimes there's a fine line between being open to constructive criticism, and being easily manipulated.  Beware of bad advice couched in "helpful" advice.  Through it all, God can be the anchor for us to hold on to.  We need to ask for God's wisdom & discernment...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Heart Set

[From 12/9/10]

"For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach the statues & ordinances in Israel." 
(Ezra 7:10)

There's ambition... desires... and having goals in life.
There's drive... aspirations... and a plan for one's future.
And then there's the instances when that coincides with God's will & purpose for one's life.
Such was the case for Ezra.

Ezra was an Israelite who grew up in Babylon.  His family was part of the "exile" group - the best & brightest who had been taken away from Israel when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.  For two generations these Hebrews lived in a foreign land.  Then one day, the new King (Artaxerxes) decided to let a remnant return home.  Ezra was to lead the group.  He had the King's full blessing.

The author tells us that Ezra had "set his heart to study the law of the LORD..." and to live it out & teach it, too!  God must have given him that desire, for it proved to be just what the people of Israel needed!  His return to Jerusalem helped revive the Temple & got worship started again in earnest.

What a gift it is to have it in your heart to do something that God created you to do... whether it's teach, help the needy, play soccer, sing, or any number of things.  How do you know if it's God's will for your life (good question!)?  Well, in my personal experience, I've come to see three good indicators:
  1. Does it bring you joy (does your heart "sing" when you're doing it?)?
  2. Does it bless others (God always gives us gifts/passions not only for ourselves, but to be a blessing to others!)?
  3. Are you making God "famous" with it (are people drawn closer to the Lord when you do what you do?!)?
May you be able to set your heart on what God has created you to do!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Duty or Reward?

"So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
(Luke 17:10)

There's a curious parable in Luke 17.  Jesus talks about how servants 'do their job' and what's expected of them.  Their master doesn't offer them regular opportunities to be served.  No.  They know their job and they do it.  Willingly.  Then Jesus directs this parable to the disciples.  What's curious, however, is the phrase "worthless slaves" that he uses.  To a 'modern' audience, it sounds kinda harsh & uncaring.  But I think Jesus was simply stating the current reality of servants.  Nothing more.

A note in my Oxford Study Bible says this means our devotion to God is a "duty to be fulfilled" and not an occasion for reward.  This makes sense!  How often do we see "going to church," or serving the poor, or reading scripture, or praying as a "noble endeavor"?  Like it's a big sacrifice we've made to do these things, and we expect to be rewarded somehow (or at least complimented & congratulated).  NO, Jesus says.  You do it because you're supposed to.  Period.  It's what's expected of us as followers of Christ.  Holiness & devotion should be the NORM, not some kind of "extra credit."

That kinda changes how we should look at things, doesn't it?

A (Worthless) Pastor

[FROM 12/3/10]

"For I am now raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for the perishing, or seek the wandering, or heal the maimed, or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.  Oh my worthless shepherd..."
(Zechariah 11:16-17a)

God is upset.  Big time!  Not only have the people let Him down (which happens ALL the time throughout history!), but the very leaders He's chosen to shepherd the people have let him down.  They've changed their description from a "good shepherd" to that of a "WORTHLESS SHEPHERD."

They do NOT:
  • Care for the perishing...
  • Seek the wandering...
  • Heal the maimed...
  • Nourish the healthy...
To me this seems like a pretty good job description of what a PASTOR should be about (these 4 jobs).  And yet, I wonder... how active am I in each of these areas?

God help me avoid being a worthless shepherd...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Two by Two

"After this the Lord appointed 70 others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go."
(Luke 10:1)

One of the marks of a good leader is his/her ability to empower and delegate.  In the 10th chapter of Luke's gospel, we see Jesus doing just that.  He appoints 70 followers to go out and carry on his ministry in the surrounding towns he was going to visit.  He gives them instructions for their mission, and empowers them to "cure the sick."

What's interesting to me is that Jesus sent them out in pairs.  That means 35 towns could be reached at a time.  If he was more concerned with numbers, he could've easily sent everyone on their own... thus reaching 70 towns!  Why didn't he?  (I don't think it's because there were only 35 towns that he cared about.  Surely there were many, many more!)  Maybe the followers weren't ready to "fly solo."  Maybe he knew they'd only succeed in pairs?  Then again, maybe he knew that we do BETTER ministry in teams!?!  Could it be that we're not only wired to LIVE in community, but also to LEAD in community?

We pastor would do well to follow that example.  Whoever gave us the notion that we were meant to be "Lone Rangers," anyway?  (Heck, even the Lone Ranger rode around with Tonto!)  May we find ways to empower others to be in ministry with us!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Divine Graffiti

"Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand.  The king was watching the hand as it wrote.  Then the king's face turned pale and his thoughts terrified him."
(Daniel 5:5-6)

Belshazzar, the Babylonian leader in power, threw a party.  A BIG PARTY!  Over 1,000 guests were invited - all nobility!  The wine was flowing freely.  On a whim, Belshazzar decided to bring out of storage the gold and silver vessels taken from the Jerusalem temple.  These were the holy objects used in the worship rituals of Jews.  Belshazzar passed them out and poured the wine!!!

Then something very strange happened.  A hand appeared (out of nowhere!) and began to graffiti the wall!  Belshazzar saw it and freaked out!  No one could read (or interpret) the writing.  So he called for Daniel... and after promising to give Daniel wealth & status (though it was politely declined), got his interpretation.

Daniel told the King that the Divine Graffiti said "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin."  The kings days were numbered (mene) and coming to an end; He had been weighted (tekel) and found wanting; and his kingdom would soon be divided (parsin).  That very night Belshazzar died.

First of all, I like this because it's just a cool story.  But more than that, I was struck by the "TEKEL" part of the graffiti.  Of course, it was the king's arrogance & lack of respect for holy object that led to the phantom fingers appearing... but I'm sure that was merely the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.  He undoubtedly lived his life without regard for God's presence & power.

How scary to think that same sentence might be passed upon me.  "You have been weighed on (God's) scales, and found wanting."  Meaning, we don't "measure up" to the correct weight we should have (ie. the "gold standard").  In olden days, some were known to try and cheat the scales - to give dishonest weights. 

All have sinned & fall short of the glory of God, the New Testament tells us.  We're all "wanting" when set on God's scales of righteousness.  But the Good News is Jesus puts his hand on the scales with us to make us right!  It's by His grace we are found to be NOT WANTING!  (Just don't start partying with the Holy Communion goblets, if you know what's good for you!)  ;)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"All" means ALL!

"The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth."
(Psalm 145:18)

Everyone knows the frustration of trying to get in touch with someone and hitting dead-ends, instead.  "Nobody sees the Wizard!  Not no one.  Not no how!" Or what about those annoying automated phone services - no matter what button you press, you still can't seem to get a real live person on the line!  Or how about trying to schedule an appointment with someone of importance ("I'm sorry, her schedule is all booked up right now.  Maybe later.")?

As I was reading Psalm 145 today, I was reminded that's NOT how God works.  Here is the Creator of the Universe... the Lord God Almighty... the Savior of the World... and Psalm 145 tells us that He's "near to all who call on him."  Not "all believers" or "all who haven't sinned" or "all whose heart is right."  No.  ALL.  Period.

What a gift that is... to know God always has time for us.  He's ready to be involved in our lives.  If only we'll CALL ON HIM.  Why wouldn't we?!?

Proper Perspective

[From 11/15/10]

"Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, 'You must not do that!  I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus.  Worship God!'"
(Revelation 19:10)

Movie Stars.
Television Celebrities.
Those are the big 4 professions that seem to bring the most adulation & adoration by others.  All over the world, these groups of people are worshipped.  Literally.  (We seem to love our entertainment, don't we?)  There are other professions we 'greatly admire' and bestow honor upon... but they usually don't bring the same adoration.

Far from being a rant on those 4 groups of people, I'm writing this morning about something a little closer to home - my own profession (ministers!).  There are a few religious leaders who seem to have garnered "rock star status."  From within the church, some have grown to superstar fame.  I still remember a few years back hearing Pastor Francis Chan admit, "If Jesus had a church (in the same town I have a church), more people would probably come to my church.  AND THAT'S NOT A GOOD THING!"  Francis recently left his church as the senior pastor.  There was no sex scandal.  No financial impropriety.  No misuse of power.  He just felt it was time to step down as senior pastor... not knowing exactly where God was leading him in the future.

We pastors are in an interesting situation.  We get to know people - often quite deeply.  We intercede and stand before God for a community.  We're up front each week during worship.  There's a human tendency to both be exulted and crave that adulation.  But today's passage from Revelation 19 is clear.  Only God should be "worshipped."  Period.  No matter how flattering it is for us, as pastors we must always be redirecting people to God.  That's the proper perspective.

Crucial intel ignored

[From 11/9/10]

"Now Johanan, son of Kareh, and all the leaders of the forces in the open country came to Gedaliah at Mizpah and said to him, 'Are you at all aware that Baalis king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, to take your life?' But Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, would not believe them."
(Jeremiah 40:13-14)

If the Exodus out of Egypt is the most significant event in the Hebrews' lives during the Old Testament period, then the 2nd most significant event would have to be the Babylonian Exile.  Jerusalem was captured and most of the inhabitants were carried away to live in captivity in Babylon.  A small remnant of poor were left in the city.  The king of Babylon set Gedaliah up as the governor of the area.  Gedaliah was a Hebrew.  That should have ensured peace & security... but it didn't last.

There were some key people who fled or managed to escape the wrath of the Babylonian army.  One such leader, Johanan, gathered intel that an assassination plot was underweigh against Gedaliah.  But when he presented that insight to the acting governor, it was ignored (actually scoffed at... see v.16!).  That proved to be a fateful decision, as Ishmael indeed led a successful assassination plot (41:2)... and carried out more murder & terror in the aftermath (41:4-10).

All this could have been avoided, had Gedaliah heeded the intel from Johanan (note: Johanan actually wanted permission to strike down Ishmael before he had the chance to kill the governor - but was prevented).  Which got me thinking... why didn't Gedaliah trust Johanan's word?  Granted, he wasn't "officially" on the gov's staff... but he was a recognized leader of the people.  Did Gedaliah simply want to believe the best about people ("Ishmael would never do such a thing!")?  Did he trust his own security personnel more than the perceived threat?  Or was he just foolish?  I don't know the answer to that... but it has caused me to think about the insight & wisdom given to me by others.  How will I respond to that info?  (Hopefully better than Gedaliah did!)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sick hearts

[From Wednesday, 11/3/10]

"How sick is your heart, says the LORD God, that you did all these things..."
(Ezekiel 16:30)

Ezekiel 16 is a very interesting allegory. God is comparing the people of Israel to a young woman.  He chronicles her development from birth (thrown into the fields without pity or compassion, v.5)... to puberty (womanhood, v.7)... to "the age of love" (v.8).  That's when God came, wooed her, cleaned her up and made covenant with her (v.8-14).  Her beauty & fame spread!

"But you trusted in your beauty," says God (v.15) and it all went downhill from there.  Using the metaphor of adultery, God outlines how His people "lusted after" others and gave themselves away to those who were not God, forgetting all that the LORD had done for them.  Eventually God exclaims, "How sick is your heart that you did all these things..."

For some reason, this morning I was struck by that phrase: "How sick is your heart."  When I read it, I didn't hear condemnation, reproach or shame.  Instead, I hear sorrow.  Deep, deep sorrow.  God is lamenting over the sickness that has engulfed his beloved "bride."  It's just not rational for Israel to have behaved that way - knowing all she had going for her because of God's amazing love.  But oftentimes sin is not rational.

So you know where I'm going with this, right?  We're also God's "bride" - God's beloved ones.  We're the people God has sought out, wooed, cleaned up, made a commitment to, adorned with honor, and surrounded with love.  It's an amazing gift to be in a relationship with the Almighty!  But we screw it up (no pun intended) when we put other things, people, & pleasures before God.  We lose our focus.  Our hearts get sick.

Why?  Why do we, as human beings do this over and over and over?  Don't we realize what we have in God's love?  Why aren't we content with God's provisions in our life?

In the end, God's love & grace remains steadfast.  We may have to face the repercussions of our sinful behavior.  But God will not abandon us completely: 
"Yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth... I will (re)establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD... when I forgive you for all that you've done." (v.60, 62-63)
 Amen to that!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The B-52's!

"If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  
(1 John 1:9)

It's a fairly common occurrence in Hawaii.  Walk into a garage late one night, turn on the lights, and see a couple of B-52 Cockroaches scurry away (Yes, we have more than our share of cockroaches in the islands - BIG ONES, too!).  And though we run into them from time to time in the daylight hours, they're especially prevalent at night!  Turn on a light suddenly, and you're bound to see some!

In 1 John, chapter one, the author reminds us that God is Light.  And God's LIGHT shines in the darkness.  It also reveals our sin.  Everyone sins - it's just our human nature.  But we don't have to remain int hat sin.  If we confess our sins to God, He is faithful and just and will forgive and cleanse us.  That's a promise.  There is no sin so great that it cannot be forgiven.

Nobody's perfect, that's for sure.  We all have some cockroaches in our garage.  If we're honest enough to admit it, God is faithful enough to forgive.  That's grace.  That's love.  That's LIFE!  Amen.

Friday, October 15, 2010


"Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander."
(1 Peter 2:1)

Starbucks recently started selling john Lennon's new album.  Well, it's more like a "best of," since Mr. Lennon hasn't been with us for a while now.  Anyway, I was looking through the song list today and saw the track IMAGINE.  It's a song, of course, about people living in peace & harmony together.  "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.  I hope someday you will join me, and the world will live as one."

That easily could be the soundtrack for what I was reading today from 1 Peter 2:1.  This single verse, if lived out, would go a LONG way towards this world "living as one."  Listen to these simple (yet evidently surprisingly difficult to actually live out) words: "Rid yourselves of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander."  Wouldn't it be refreshing if we ALL lived this way?  Especially now that we're in a political campaign season, we could use a lot less malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander!!!

But the true power of Scripture is not the passages I find for others to hear... it's the passages I find for me!  So how do I need to rid myself of these things?  May I endeavor today to be kind, gracious, sincere, content, and honest.  (Maybe even beyond today, too!)  Imagine!

Friday, October 1, 2010

(cue Bridal March music!)

"For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall God rejoice over you." 
(Isaiah 62:5)

Tomorrow, friends of ours are getting married.  Nancy was part of the youth group at my very first church, some 15+ years ago.  She and Kyle have been together for quite a while now, so it's a joy to be able to celebrate with them on this deeper commitment to their relationship.  I know that Nancy's excited, simply based on her Facebook posts this week!  I can also remember back over 20 years ago when I was a groom-to-be, and the excitement I had.  What a feeling!

The prophet Isaiah uses wedding imagery to talk about our relationship wtih God.  But he puts an interesting twist on it.  Instead of simply saying we are bound together with God, like a marriage covenant... Isaiah speaks about God REJOICING over us, like a bridegroom over his bride.  How cool is it to know that GOD GETS EXCITED & FILED WITH JOY when He thinks of us!?!? We tend to picture God as distant, waiting only for us to come to Him... but not according to Isaiah 62:5!

How might it change may day to day to know that God is REJOICING over my relationship with Him?  (It's actually kind of exciting, isn't it?)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

As long as it's called 'Today'...

"But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."
(Hebrews 3:13)

I just received word that one of our church members died of a massive heart attack last night.  He called his wife, a nurse, who was on her way to work, to say that he was experiencing chest pains.  "If something happens to me tonight, know that I love you and the girls," he said to her.  By the time she turned around & made it home (just minutes later), he was unresponsive.

Every day is a gift.  We know that in our heads.  But do we live as though it's a true reality?  The author of Hebrews calls us to "exhort one another every day."  Encourage one another.  Love one another.  think about others more than yourself.  Daily.  Why?  Because none of us knows if there will be a tomorrow for us.  Too often we live like we expect tomorrow to be there, but nothing is guaranteed.  So say what you need to say, the author continues, "as long as it is called 'today.'

What do you NEED to do today?  Who do you need to encourage?  Who might need to know they're loved?  Don't let anger, resentment, pride, or any other sin take root.  Not while it's still called 'today.'  Life is too short.  Life is too precious.

PRAYER:  Thank you, Lord, for Dennis... and the love he showered upon his family... including his love for you!  AMEN.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Name dropping

"Moreover, is it without the LORD that I have come up against this land to destroy it?  The LORD said to me, 'Go up against this land and destroy it.'"
(Isaiah 36:10)

"GOD TOLD ME..." Powerful words, aren't they?  They're words designed to influence others.  Words echoing divine authority & power.  When someone says that, also implied is this unspoken sentiment: "Who are you to question God's commands?!?"

But maybe they're bantered around too easily.  Maybe we should be a little (a LOT!) more reflective whenever someone says it.  As I learned in seminary, the "hermeneutic of suspicion" could go a long way here.

Consider our passage today from Isaiah 36.  The Assyrian King Sennacherib has come to attack the cities of Judah.  King Hezekiah is in Jerusalem when the Assyrian armies arrive.  Before attacking, however, the Assyrian spokesperson stats 'talking trash' and trying to convince Hezekiah's men to not resist, for the odds are stacked heavily against them.  Amidst this dialogue, the Assyrian claims that not only has God been with him, but GOD CALLED HIM to undertake this military campaign against Judah.  Yes, he's claiming to use Israel's God against them!  (The nerve!)

But it caused me to think about very expression: "God told me..."  How often do we speak those very same words?  Of course, we may not be intentionally trying to manipulate others, like the Assyrian officer was... but it could have similar consequences if we're not careful.  As sure as we may be of God's direction & instruction in our lives, we need to be careful about speaking on behalf of the Almighty.

Somehow, the phrase "Do not take the LORD'S Name in vain" comes to mind here...

Friday, September 17, 2010


"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you." 
(2 Timothy 1:5)

I've always loved this verse.  Not enough kudos go out to grandmas... and the impact they can have on our faith journeys.

Today I'm thinking about my Grandma Louisa White.  In her younger days, she was a nurse, who spent her live helping others.  I remember her later years with much fondness.  We'd drive up from Arizona to their house in Montana every couple of summers or so.  Grandma had a wonderful little vegetable garden in her back yard.  I loved her fresh rhubarb sauce (think apple sauce with sweetened rhubarb flavor!).  I loved digging for worms (night crawlers) with Grandpa in that garden, prior to going fishing.  She was a gung-ho outdoorswoman!  She could fish with the best of us.  She had no problem cleaning the fish we'd caught... and sure knew how to fry them up after (yum!).  She was an accomplished painter, who loved to paint her favorite flower - the pansy!  And I don't know why I think this, but I seem to remember her being fond of stories.

But above all else, Grandma White was a woman with a deep & abiding faith.  She raised my father with similar convictions... who, in turn, raised me.  Grandma White loved music & hymns & singing.  I remember going to church with her (and Grandpa).  And I remember the summer she came out to visit us in Hawaii.  It would be the last time I ever saw her, as she died later that fall during heart surgery.  At the time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer.  She simply said, "The world needs more Christian lawyers."  Indeed!

Thank you, God... for my Grandma... who helped shape who I am today!

(What do you remember about YOUR grandma?)

Thursday, September 16, 2010


"Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food & clothing, we will be content with these."
(1 Timothy 6:6-8)

We're never content.  We're not supposed to be.  (At least that's the message we're bombarded with in today's society!)  There's always something more we need to have.  Always some upgrade worth buying.  If only we could have... (fill in the blank)!!!  We've been conditioned well.  Too well.

Paul reminds us where our focus should lie: godliness & contentment.  It's the perfect pair.  Love God and neighbor.  Live right.  Live simply.  Be content.  Food & clothing are the main essentials, he writes.  That's enough.  (Or at least it should be.)

It's so hard to stop acquiring (and desiring!) stuff.  And yet, that's not where life (TRUE LIFE) is discovered.  Contentment is key.  Chris Tomlin wrote a song called "Enough."  It expresses this message of contentment perfectly.
  "All of you is more than enough for all of me; for every searching, every need.  You satisfy me with your love, and all I have in you, is more than enough."
May I live more and more into that promise!  AMEN.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Divine Pairs

"A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom & understanding, the spirit of counsel & might, the spirit of knowledge & the fear of the LORD."
(Isaiah 11:1-2)

Isaiah 11 talks about the coming Messiah.  It was a predictive passage - as Isaiah was looking towards what would come down the road.  God's chosen... a new kind of king!  Not one with political & geographical borders, but a king of spiritual & eternal consequences... ready to usher in God's kingdom here & now!!!

One of the sings Isaiah points us toward, so we can know who truly is this Messiah King, is recognizing that the spirit of the LORD is with him.  But there are other signs, too.  A spirit of wisdom & understanding, counsel & might, and knowledge & fear of the Lord.  They're all very familiar terms and the sentences flow so smoothly together.  But I spent a while seriously thinking about what they actually meant...

A spirit of wisdom & understanding... Wisdom is more than intelligence.  it's also insight & common sense.  Couple it with understanding, and it gives a depth of comprehension.  It becomes practical & extremely valuable.  It's definitely not a 'trivial pursuit.'

A spirit of counsel & might... This gives the king the ability to lead others - to help guide, direct, inspire, challenge, and encourage.  But couple it with might, and he can exude confidence because he's speaking from strength.  The might is not to be abused, of course.  Instead, it provides a deep reservoir... a foundation that enables him to better share good counsel (and have people accept that counsel!).

A spirit of knowledge & the fear of the Lord... Knowing God (not just knowing about God, which is vitally important, of course) means having an intimate relationship with God, which leads to a genuine fear of God.  Fear, however, does not mean literally being afraid... but rather a sense of respect, awe, and reverence.  Together these enable a healthy relationship with the Divine.

So this is what the Messiah King... what JESUS... would eventually be like, Isaiah says.  Why do we need to know this, if we already recognize Jesus as the Savior?  I think we ALL are called to strive for these "divine pairings" in our lives.  They can be a wonderful start of a daily prayer... "Lord, by your grace, fill me with your wisdom & understanding, with counsel & might, with knowledge & fear of you!  Help me to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, my Savior!  AMEN."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Noisy Joy

"Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.  Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing."
(Psalm 100:1)

We live in a world full of noise.  Heck, we ourselves make a lot of noise!  Radios/iPods/Computers/TVs/DVRs/DVDs etc. are going non-stop in our lives.  Our modes of transportation are noisy (unless we drive a hybrid, of course).  It's hard to find quiet places these days.  Not to mention our grumbling - in traffic, with coworkers or classmates, at home... over the economy, politicians, athletic teams, the weather, etc.  Noise is everywhere.

Psalm 100 calls us to refocus our noisy lives.  It doesn't condemn them, but rather challenges us to turn it into joy and focus on God.  'MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE TO THE LORD ALL THE EARTH!'  Everyone.  Every creature.  All Creation.  In unison.  In praise.  IN JOY!  Gladness, thanksgiving, adn singing should be the norm.  That would be joyful noise!

How can I change my life to have more joy-filled noise?  Instead of grumbling at others, I want to sing praise throughout my day.  I want to have a grateful heart.  Not because I 'have to,' but because it's bound to make a difference on how I experience life.  JOYFUL NOISE.  Let's give it a shot.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


"For in (Jesus) the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross."
(Colossians 1:19-20)

I remember hearing a teaching by Pastor Rob Bell (it may have been his NOOMA video series) about the idea of "reconciliation."  In the ancient near east, when Rome ruled the Mediterranean, Caesar brought about "peace" (Pax Romana) by a process of what he called "reconciling" former enemies.  He'd use the violent method of crucifixion to bring "reconciliation."  It proved to be very effective in keeping the peace. 

Paul, in his letter to the church in Colossae, turns that image upside down.  God also brought peace and true reconciliation through crucifixion.  But it wasn't the crucifixion of his enemies.  No, it was himself!  Jesus (God's Son - the representation of God in human form) was crucified.  The blood of the cross brought healing, forgiveness, and restoration to all.  Wow!

It's so hard to forgive deep hurts.  Vengeance is so tempting.  We, like Caesar, want those who've hurt us to suffer... to feel some of the pain they've caused us.  Thank Goodness God doesn't act like that (or we'd be doomed!). No, God gives us an alternate vision.  Because he's forgiven us of so much, we are challenged to extend the same grace to others: Peace.  Healing.  Forgiveness.  Grace. RECONCILIATION!  (Amen!)

Friday, September 3, 2010

SCANDAL... redeemed!

"What does it matter?  Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice."
(Philippians 1:18)

A few years ago, Hillsong produced a very powerful song, 'HEALER.'  It speaks of how God is everything one needs - and can heal anything (or anyone) who's broken, sick, etc.  In the height of the song's popularity, scandal broke out.  The man who wrote & performed the song (a Church leader in Australia) needed an oxygen tank to sing it, as he was suffering from a debilitating & life-threatening disease.  It was quite moving to hear his testimony & see his determination to praise God in the midst of his challenges.  What was scandalous, however, was the shocking realization that he wasn't really sick at all... he was making it all up for effect!  Not only that, but people had been giving him donations to help with his medical bills & treatment.  Ouch.  Fraud.  Manipulating & misleading the faithful for personal gain.  Yikes.

I remember feeling guilty still liking the song.  As if the sin in which the song was birthed was supposed to negate its message.  But I couldn't help it.  It was a great song ("I believe You're my healer.  I believe You're more than enough for me.  Jesus, You're all I need!").

In my reading today from Philippians 1, Paul gives me permission to not feel guilty about this song!  He was writing to the believers in Philippi, telling them his recent imprisonment has actually given him MORE opportunities to share the gospel with others!  Not only that, but other people have been proclaiming the gospel in an attempt to prolong Paul's suffering.  I don't know the details, but Paul assures us that their hearts are NOT in the right place.

"BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER," Paul continues.  Whether God is proclaimed through pure or impure motives doesn't matter.  The bottom line is that GOD IS PROCLAIMED.  Period.  God is big enough to use whatever testimony is made to change hearts!

So it's okay to like the song, "Healer."  Who knows, God might even heal the one who took his name in vain by creating this song in deception?!  For Jesus is indeed more than enough for us all.  (Amen to that!)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


"(Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying (in the tomb), and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself."
(John 20:6-7)

I read again today the familiar Easter story of Peter running to the empty tomb & seeing Jesus' grave clothes lying empty.  John makes a point of saying that Jesus' head wrap was neatly rolled up on the side.  My first thought was, "Wow... his mom must have taught him to make his bed every morning when he awoke!" (like my mom did!).  But then I noticed the OTHER wrappings weren't rolled up, they were just lying in a pile.  Why the difference?  Was Jesus in a hurry & couldn't finish folding?  Were the body cloths too much to roll up?  Or did it just look pretty cool lying there - like the skin from a lizard after molting (guess what kind of pet I had as a kid?!)?

Then I noticed a note in my Bible: "Compare 11:44."  John 11 is the story of Lazarus - the one whom Jesus raised from the dead.  In verse 44, when Lazarus walks out of the tomb, Jesus tells the crowd to "unbind him."  He was still wrapped up... still 'mummified'.  But in John 20, Jesus didn't need anyone to unbind him.  He was already unbound!  He took care of it himself.  What's the point?  Was Jesus the original escape artist (before David Blaine & Houdini!)?  Or maybe this was the author's way of telling us that NOTHING can hold Jesus.  not a tomb... not graveclothes... not death.  He has conquered all!

For us as followers of Jesus, that means we share in that freedom.  We may not "conquer all" in this life.  Let's face it, life is hard.  Troubles come.  Evil hits.  But we will not be left on our own... we'll never be abandoned.  The One who conquers will see us through!  And even when this earthly life comes to an end, we will escape the bonds of our bodies & live eternal in God's glorious kingdom.

And it has absolutely nothing to do with making our beds!  lol

What a comforting thought.  AMEN!

Friday, August 27, 2010


"Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.  Sanctify the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room & the bride her canopy."
(Joel 1:15-16)

We don't mess around with warnings here in Hawaii - at least when it comes to the weather.  A few years back, Hurricane Iniki ripped through Kauai, doing major damage.  Last year we had a tsunami warning and the whole island chain shut down for half a day.  We have these "disaster alert" warning sirens stationed strategically all over the state.  They get tested every month on the first working day at 11:45am.  Every month.  We all know the sound.

The prophet Joel is calling the people of Israel to task.  They need to repent.  There's danger coming & he wants the trumpet warning cries to sound.  Which got me thinking... what would it take to get all of us in Hawaii to repent & refocus on God?  What if the disaster warning sirens started blaring... and people turned on their TVs or radios... and the announcement came: "We haven't lived like we should.  Disaster will soon be here!  Repent!  Ask God for forgiveness.  Ask your family for forgiveness.  Recenter your lives and hearts in God's mercy!  Hurry!!!"

I wonder... would anybody listen?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A marked man!

"So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus."
(John 12:10)

It was one of the most famous funerals in all history (or maybe it should be considered a "non-funeral Funeral"!).  Having been dead three days, Lazarus was raised to life by Jesus - his friend (John 11)!  Wrapped in grave cloths and stinking up his tomb, Lazarus came walking out at Jesus' divine command.  What a dramatic moment.  What a powerful testimony Lazarus now had!!!

Evidently, many others thought so, too.  One chapter later (John 12), we're told that many came out to both hear Jesus speak, AND TO SEE LAZARUS - the one Jesus had brought back to life.  So many came that the religious leaders became uncomfortable.  They'd already committed themselves to bringing down Jesus.  Now they added Lazarus to the list.  He, too, must die!  He was a marked man.

This is another example of how evil opposes good.  God is at work to bring life, goodness & mercy to the world.  But not everyone finds that positive.  Evil reacts (often violently) to expressions of goodness in the world.  Those who have a testimony to God's grace can find themselves also being marked men (& women!).  But fear not.  God will never leave or forsake us.  H will help us endure and persevere amidst adversity.  Thanks be to God for this truth!  AMEN.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sphere of Influence

"The King of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, 'There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.'"
(1 Kings 22:7-8)

King Jehoshaphat of Judah & King Ahab of Israel are debating launching a war together.  They asked the prophets of God, who all gave their blessing.  Wanting to make sure they've done their due diligence, Jehoshaphat asks if there was any other prophet who can seek God's wisdom?  "Yah, there's Micaiah.  But I hate him.  He never has anything good to say to me!" the king replies.  (Hey, at least he's honest!)

When the king's servant goes to bring Micaiah, he tells the prophet to give the king a favorable prophesy (which makes you wonder if the other were similarly "coached" beforehand?!?).  Before the two kings, Micaiah initially agrees with the other prophets.  "Go ahead.  God will bless you."  That's when Ahab lays into him.  "How many times have I told you to ONLY TELL ME THE TRUTH!?!?"  So Micaiah gives him the truth.  It will all end very badly.  Don't go to war.  Send the soldiers home.

For his truth, Micaiah is "rewarded" with imprisonment.  And reduced rations.  ("Didn't I tell you that he never says anything good about me?" says Ahab.)  Great.  So much for being a prophet with integrity.  Look where that leads.

As I think about this story, I see the immense pressure that people of influence have by others with MORE influence.  I've heard that many politicians begin their careers with high ideals and dreams of really making positive changes.  As time passes, however, they see how things actually get done.  Connections.  Alliances.  Favors.  Pay backs. Inevitably, corruption creeps in.  It's easy to condemn politicians... but this story says that we religious leaders can be influenced just as negatively - if we allow it.  Micaiah stayed true to his calling, despite the pressure.  Deep down, King Ahab knew.  He knew Micaiah had a connection to God.  And Micaiah stayed true.  He maintained his sphere of influece. 

May the same be said of me.  Help me, Lord!!!

LIke Superbowls & Oscars

[From 8/19/10]

"On that 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 7:37-38a)

It was a major festival - the Festival of Booths.  It commemorated Israel's wilderness wandering and God's provisions.  This week-long celebration remembered how God provided water when they were thirsty (from the rock Moses struck with his staff)... as well as looked ahead to the "wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3) tat will come with the Messiah - God's chosen Savior.

To observe this dual focus, a priest would take a golden pitcher and fill it with water from the Pool of Siloam... then march it up to the Temple in Jerusalem.  The people would follow him in a procession. This happened every day of the 7-day festival.  So imagine the irony (or divine timing!) when Jesus shows up on day 7... possibly in the middle of the golden pitcher procession... and announces to all who'll listen that if they're THIRSTY (really thirsty!), they can come to him and drink.

It would be kind of like Jesus showing up during the half-time show at the Superbowl and announcing to the world that if anyone wants to be a "true champion" they should come to him.  Or if he'd pop up in Hollywood at the Oscars and declare to the star-studded audience that it's only in His presence where one can be a "real winner."  (Theologically, you may take issue with these analogies, but socially & culturally, I think it's right on the mark!)

Jesus was such a great teacher, he used whatever context he was in to help people see the deeper truths of God.  Wherever he went, people were astonished at his teachings.  How awesome that we, too, can "hear" his wisdom through the pages of Scripture.  May I forever drink deeply from this wellspring of life!  AMEN.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


"Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated..."
(John 6:11)

It was dinnertime.  Jesus and his disciples had been teaching a multitude of people.  About five thousand to be exact.  Up in the mountains.  No fast food restaurants nearby.  "Where are we going to buy bread for everyone to eat?" Jesus playfully asks his group of followers.  "Yah right!" they retort.  "It'd take a half a year's salary - and even then, they'd only get a bite each!"

That's when Simon Peter noticed it.  A little boy's lunch.  Five barley loaves & two fish.  More than enough for a boy.  Nowhere near enough for a multitude.  But Peter mentioned it to Jesus anyway.  So Jesus asked everyone to sit down.  Then before distributing the meal he did something that could have easily gone unnoticed: he prayed.  He gave thanks! 

Imagine the thoughts in the disciples' minds at that exact moment.  'You're giving thanks?  For that!?!?!  Five loaves & two fish?  It's nowhere near enough!  Not exactly something to get excited about, Jesus.'  But Jesus knew that thankfulness was more a condition of the inner spirit of a person, rather than a condition of that same person's resources.  God can use anything to do whatever He needs done!  Especially a grateful & appreciative heart!

May it be the same for me... and you!  AMEN.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Chip off the Old Block

"Jesus said to them, 'Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.'"
(John 5:19)
I've read this passage from John many times... always thinking about the relationship between God & Jesus (Father & Son).  But today when I read it, I thought about me and my son, Ezra.  Ezra is 15 1/2 and a junior in high school.  He's an athlete.  He has a heart for younger children, and a good sense of humor.  He does well in school.  He loves his family.

There are a lot of similarities between me and my son... not only in looks but characteristics.  I also know he's his own person, and has unique aspects, too.  But when I read this verse today, it impressed upon me that Ezra is who he is largely because of who I am (and, of course, because of who my wife, Jody, is!).  What he's seen me do (or not do) is indelibly imprinted on his psyche.  My values, habits, actions, words, & endeavors shape my son - whether he likes it or not.

That's quite a daunting & humbling thought.  (Lord, help me be the man You need me to be, so Ezra can be the man You need him to be!)  It also tells me that I can know what God is like, because I know what Jesus is like, through stories in Scripture, and his presence in my life today.  I guess he's a chip off the old block!

Friday, August 13, 2010


MAN: "A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a garden locked, a fountain sealed."
WOMAN: "Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits."
(Song of Solomon 4:12, 16)

When you think about erotic books, the Bible does not usually come to mind.  In fact, Church (and church people) in general isn't (aren't) always that open to talk about sex & sexuality.  Then you come to the SONG OF SOLOMON (aka "Song of Songs") in the Old Testament.  And it kinda stops you cold in your tracks.

If you're unfamiliar with this short book of poetry, it's a love story between a man & woman.  They flatter each other.  They pour out their feelings.  They talk about their attraction & excitement for each other.  And they don't "beat around the bush" either!

In Jewish culture (or at least in the Hebrew culture of the Bible), after the wedding "ceremony," the entire wedding party would walk the couple back to the groom's home - into his "wedding chamber" - and wait outside while the couple consummated their marriage.  It was only after they made love together that they were considered to be "officially married."  And then the party would start with all of the guests outside!

It's too bad the church has lost its voice when it comes to celebrating sexuality.  "Don't do it!" is the usual phrase connected to Church & sex.  But that doesn't honor God's gift of sexuality.  We were created to love one another - in a committed, loving marriage, that's all.

In the meantime... keep those "gardens locked," so when it's finally time to enjoy one another completely, the "choicest fruits" will still be there for one's spouse.  Because then you've got a lifetime of playing in the gardens of love!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Enjoy your marriage!

"Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and your toil at which you toil under the sun."
(Ecclesiastes 9:9)

THE ONION is a spoof news site that creates attention-grabbing stories, marinated in humor, that cause people to re-examine their own opinions & (often cherished) beliefs.  The other day I came across a "special report" on a new law in Minnesota (remember, it's made-up, folks!)... to ban "loveless marriages."  Using a lot of the rhetoric that's swirling around now with the gay marriage issue, this short 3-minute news piece was brilliant!

Interviewing protesters, one activist says, "We didn't choose to feel nothing for each other, that's just the way we are!"  There was a scene of graffiti vandalism, with the following slogan spray painted on a neighborhood garage door: "GOD HATES STAYING TOGETHER FOR THE KIDS!" And citing the potential legal ramifications, should this bill pass, the reporter says, "If one spouse gets sick, the other can't visit them in the hospital to berate them about how much that medical bill will cost."  Classic.

The writer of Ecclesiastes put it simply, "Enjoy life with the wife whom you love."  Amen to that!

PS.  Here's the link if you want to watch it yourself:,14401/

rooted & grounded

[From 8/9/10]

"I pray that... Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,a s you are being rooted & grounded in love."
(Ephesians 3:17)

What would it mean to be "rooted & grounded in love"?  If we were to think of a tree... it would be planted in love.  Love would be not only touching the trunk where it enters the ground, but would be well below, too.  Root systems of some trees run quite deep.  Being rooted means all of the nutrients & water comes through the love-soaked soil in and around the roots.  Likewise, what the tree becomes will be heavily shaped by love.  Heavily.

What an image for Christians.  That we may be rooted & grounded in love.  That love (to love or not to love) wouldn't be an "option" of ours to choose or reject.  No!  It would be everything about us!  We'd be surrounded in love so every nutrient, everything that shaped us and gave us energy would have at its core LOVE.  How would that change our interactions with others? What we did... or said... or thought?

How is this even possible?  The author of Ephesians says that Christ dwells in our hearts.  He is love.  He is THE CENTER of all.  That's being rooted & grounded. 

Bring it on!

Friday, August 6, 2010

A caution to us pastors...

"Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds; for riches do not last forever, nor a crown for all generations..."
(Proverbs 27:23-24)

"Don't forget where you came from" is a saying usually reserved for those who've ascended to some position of height.  It's partly about remembering one's roots, and partly about the dangers of newfound power.  The writer of Proverbs knows this - but from a more practical standpoint.  A shepherd may rise tot he status of KING (a la David)... but there will come a time when all that fades.  So, the wisdom of the writer is this: "Don't forget your flocks!"  Pay attention to what you did before you became king.  Take care of your sheep & goats - because someday you'll need them again (see v.26-27 for the practical application).

I was first attracted to this because of the first verse, "Know well the condition of your flocks." It seemed like wise advice to all us pastors.  Make sure you stay in touch with your people.  Don't be so involved in the "administration" of leading a church, that you forget the people you're supposed to be shepherding.

But the context of the following verses caused me to reflect in a different way.  As a pastor, if I were to take this wisdom to heart, it might be telling me not to assume that I'll always live the life of a pastor.  In many ways, we pastors have a lot of privilege.  We're given many benefits as part of this position.  But we're also placed in close proximity to the Divine on a regular basis.  Granted, God is everywhere... and all have the same access to God... but there is a perceived "spiritual exaltation" for pastors. 

Maybe this section from Proverbs is a reminder to "give attention" to our hearts... to our spiritual lives.  Don't assume the position of "pastor" is enough to "live on" for life.  We are called to do the dirty work (wait... maybe "get our hands dirty" is a better expression) of our spiritual life (like everyone else has to!).  Because, let's face it... if all we have is the title of "Pastor," but little or no ongoing spiritual under-pinings, we're in serious trouble.  We can't skate by on past spiritual moments.  We have to maintain that relationship with God all the time.  "For riches do not last forever, nor a crown for all generations." 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Not-so-trivial Pursuits

"Let us then pursue what makes for peace & for mutual upbringing."
(Romans 14:19)

I believe it was Thumper in the classic Disney movie BAMBI who said, 'If you can't say somethun' nice, don't say anything at all!'  (Actually, he was quoting his mom's advice, wasn't he!).  I wonder if we, in contemporary American culture, have lost sight of this wisdom?  We seem so quick to criticize, judge, complain & argue with anyone we have a difference with.  Our "right" to speak our mind often trumps the call for kindness.

Paul was facing a challenge in the early church.  Some believers were openly criticizing (and condemning) other believers because of what they did or didn't eat (notably, food that had been sacrificed to other gods & then resold on the open market).  Those in the faith began tearing one another down, and it made Paul's heart sick.  Rather than lay give the definitive declaration of WHO'S RIGHT, Paul instead urged them to simply "pursue what makes for peace & mutual upbringing."

We could go a long way if we followed that advice today.  Pursue peace & mutual upbringing.  How would our days change if we were intentional about not putting others down or seeking to interject how others were wrong all the time?  How would it change our interactions with our spouse, children, co-workers, people at Starbucks (even, dare I say it, fellow drivers on the road?!?)?  Who knows... I just might become a little more like Jesus.

Where LOVE is...

[From 8/1/10]

"Better is little with the fear of the LORD, than great treasure & trouble with it.  Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it."
(Proverbs 15:16-17)

Jesus once told a parable that ended with the statement, 'What would it benefit a man to gain the world and forfeit his soul?'  That seems to echo through this passage from Proverbs 15: "Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, than great treasure and trouble with it."

Too often in this life we get drawn into this consumer culture (or is it just me?!?).  We feel like we need more "cool stuff": flat screen TV, HD compatible, 3D with those cool glasses, etc.  A newer car.  "Hipper" clothes.  More tunes on our iPod (or just maybe we should upgrade to the newest iPhone!?!).  Ann that's just the 'little' stuff!  Some feel the need to work multiple jobs (or late hours) to provide the "niceties" for their family - yet lose out on time spent together.  We we get so caught up with our new stuff (ie. technology) that we choose to do THAT rather than interact in a meaningful way with those closest to us.

Slow down.  Scale back.  Simplify.  Enjoy.  Cherish.  Invest in PEOPLE and relationships!  LOVE... and the blessings will flow.  For where love is...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Wisdom. (Guaranteed!)

"I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me."
(Proverbs 8:17)

In the 8th chapter of Proverbs, the author personifies wisdom as a woman.  She calls out to people: "Acquire intelligence, you who lack it!"  She comments on how her instructions are better than gold or silver.  She even comments that "those who seek me diligently, find me."

There are many things in life that do not come with guarantees: health, years of life, safety & security, permanence of relationships, acceptance, etc.  But Lady Wisdom says if we seek her diligently, we WILL find her.  Period.  As Christians, we believe that god will give us wisdom, if only we'll ask (see James 1:5).  It'll come!  Wisdom may not be always something you can quantify (like one's IQ score)... or always mean simply knowledge (like being a trivia expert!)... but it will sure take you far in life.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to seek Your Wisdom.  May I not rely on my own intelligence or understanding alone.  Help me to search for You with all diligence.  Keep me humble.  Thank you for the promise of wisdom to all of us who seek it.  Diligently.  AMEN!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blood Stained

"Then the people as a whole answered, 'His blood be on us and our children!'"
(Matthew 27:25)

Okay, so Jesus is under arrest.  He's in "not-so-protective custody" with Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in the Jerusalem region.  He was brought there by the Jewish religious leaders (though Matthew tells us that Pilate knew it was only out of jealousy that Jesus was turned over to him - see v.18!).  Pilate reminds the people of the tradition of releasing any one prisoner during Passover.  Pilate gives them 2 options: Jesus, or a criminal named Barabbas.  The people opt for the latter.  Repeatedly.  When Pilate presses their intentions for Jesus, they shout, "CRUCIFY HIM!"  Wow.  Pilate announces his "innocence" in the whole affair, and literally washes his hands in front of them, symbolizing his guilt-free conscience.  That's wen the crowd utters that fateful line: "His blood be on us and our children!"

Never have more ironic words been spoken.  The crowds are telling Pilate they'll be responsible for the blood of Jesus that's shed.  But they don't realize that spiritually, his blood WILL be upon them - in the sense that because of his blood, they (& their children) can be forgiven!

Isn't that how God often works?  With our petty, vindictive, small-minded natures, we often lash out at God & others when emotions & feelings run high.  We say & do things that are not Christ-like.  We make a mess of things regularly.  But through it all, the blood of Jesus falls upon us and our children.  Forgiveness.  Healing.  Cleansing.  Restoration.  We may not even ask for it - but it's there.  If only we'll accept it.

If only...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Stayin' Alive?

"From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, an on the third day be raised."
(Matthew 16:21)

It's human nature.  Animal instinct.  "Protect thyself."  Look out for #1.  Or, in the immortal words of the BeeGees, "Ah, ah, ah, ah... stayin' alive!"  We seem to be wired towards self-preservation.  That's probably why Peter had such a hard time with what Jesus had said to them.  "God forbid it, Lord!" he cried out.  "This must never happen to you!"

The fact is, they'd just gotten going.  Three years seemed like such a short time to be in ministry together.  Jesus' momentum, following, and fame had really taken off lately!  And now, Jesus starts talking some nonsense about suffering & death?!?!  Doesn't he get it?  That can't happen to The Chosen One!

But Jesus knew differently.  As humans, we may be prone to self-preservation... but we were meant to live a life of SELF-SACRIFICE!  Yes, it was counter-intuitive and counter-cultural (it still is!)... but the Kingdom of God is based on putting others first... and responding in sacrificial love!  Jesus was trying to help them learn the powerful lesson that this kind of lifestyle actually leads to a more abundant & meaningful life!  The disciples had a hard time learning that.  So do we.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


"The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes & sells all that he has & buys that field."
(Matthew 13:44)

When I was a kid, I'd dream about finding buried treasure.  Must have been all those PIRATE stories/movies (though this was before Jack Sparrow's fame!).  Whenever I was out in the woods (like by my cousins' houses in VA), I'd go searching for "treasurers" that might have been lost there.  I never found any, but it sure was fun to search!

Jesus once told a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven being like treasure... treasure that someone found, buried & then bought the field it was in.  Interesting analogy, isn't it?  The Gospel is supposed to be FREE for all, right?  At least in welcoming it into our hearts.  And it's all around us (the reality of God's love & grace for everyone!).  But somehow it remains hidden to so many.  When someone "discovers" this amazing grace, it's life-changing!  And what is free becomes something that costs everything... because everything changes.  Priorities, values, relationships, what's important in life, everything!  So it's not unlikely for someone to "sell all he has and buy that field."

My role, as pastor, is to help more people find the treasure.  There's enough for everyone (and then some!).  The Gospel can be found all over - in numerous fields in our lives - if only we'll look (and help others search, too!).

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Judge... NOT!

"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get."
(Matthew 7:1-2)

We all do it.  We may not admit it openly to others.  But we do it nonetheless.  We pass judgment on people.  We do!  Sometimes we do it at first glance - how someone looks becomes the basis of our opinion of them.  Sometimes we see a single action (or series of actions) and we assume we "know them" & judge them accordingly.  We do this especially when we've been hurt.

There's a song by Sawyer Brown called "THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND."  It begins with a woman on a bus with rowdy kids... and everyone looking at her & commenting how she can't control them.  She asks for forgiveness for them... for they've been up all night.  Their daddy died.  Please forgive them.  Verse 2 centers around an old man driving slowly on the interstate.  Other drivers are staring at him, honking their hons & yelling out the window at him.  He asks for forgiveness... saying his wife has died & his kids don't visit anymore... so it's hard for him to get around on his own.  "Please forgive me."

The chorus says this:
(They don't understand)
Everybody's busy with their own situation
Everybody's lost in their own little world
Bottled up, hurry it up trying to make a dream come true
(They don't understand)
Everybody's living like there ain't no tomorrow
Maybe we should stop and take a little time
Cause you never really know what your neighbor's going through
(They don't understand)

And then there's the final verse...
A man hanging on a wooden cross
Giving everything to save the lost
Everybody's starin' not knowin' what he's going through
Somebody said you don't have a prayer
If you were king, come down from there
The man just turned his head looked up and stared
He said, "Please forgive them
For they have not seen the light
They'll come to know me when I come back to life
Go to heaven, to make everything all right
So please forgive your children"

PRAYER: Lord, I know I've got issues in my life that need your forgiveness.  Help me not to judge others, but instead love them, be patient with them, and give them the benefit of the doubt... just as you've done countless times for me.  AMEN.

Holiness & Honor

[from 6-19-10]

"For this is the will of God... that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness & honor, not with lustful passion..."
(1 Thessalonians 4:4-5)

"The more things change, the more they stay the same."  That seems to be the case with love, sex, lust, and self-control!  Paul is writing to the community in Thessolonica, exhorting them to maintain self-control - especially in regards to their sexuality.  Avoid lustful passion.  Don't exploit others.  God has called us to purity & holiness.

It seems that at times, sexual drives are as basic as the need for food, water, and shelter.  That's how we were created by God.  People have been acting on their sexual impulses since the beginning of time - both in healthy and unhealthy ways.  Paul wanted to encourage the Christians to maintain holiness & purity in their bodies.  It must have been a struggle in Thessolonica.  It's still a struggle for us today!

We all know people who have been in (and/or affected by) inappropriate sexual relationships.  "You were created for so much more," says Paul.  Holiness!  Holiness enhances healthy sexuality.  The way we use our bodies is a reflection of our relationship with God.  And if we've slipped in this area, God can cleanse & forgive.  We just have to ask.  Holiness & honor.  That's what we're capable of!  So be it.  AMEN.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Many or Few

"...For nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or few."
(1 Samuel 14:6b)

Boldness.  Confidence.  Courage.  Faith.  These are all qualities that King Saul's son, Jonathan, possessed.  As a soldier in the Israelite army, he saw an opportunity & took it.  Faced with a standoff vs. the Philistines (and in the midst of a severe weapons crisis - see 1 Sam. 13:19-22!), Jonathan took matters into his own hands and initiated a not-so-covert operation.  he boldly took his armor bearer & engaged the Philistines in a surprise attack!

Immediately before the attack, when calling his armor bearer to accompany him, Jonathan noted that "nothing can hinder the LORD from saving with many or few" (14:6).  They were definitely on the "few" end of the spectrum.  Against all odds, however, Jonathan emerged victorious.  Amazing!  And he trusted God's deliverance all along.

We're starting a new ministry at AUMC.  Our "Life Communities" will be small house churches connected together.  We want to connect those outside the faith to one another & to God.  Our congregation is relatively small... we're on the "few" end of the spectrum, in many ways.  But God is good!  He doesn't need only "mega churches" to reach out to the non-churched.  God can save by many or few.  May we truly be used as an instrument of God's saving grace.

Friday, June 4, 2010


"How often I have deired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing."
(Luke 13:34b)

He knows what it's supposed to be like.  He has love & compassion for them - but for the most part, they've shunned him.  He's waiting to shelter them... comfort them... support them... and surround them with love - just like a mother hen does with her brood of chicks.  But they've refused.  And it pains him.  That's the relationship Jesus had with the people of Jerusalem.

I wonder who Jesus says those words about today?  How many of those close to us (family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, classmates, etc.) fall into this category?  People of infinite worth & value... people whom God has great plans for, if only they'd let him into their lives.  But they haven't.  Or won't.

We have relationships with them.  We can speak a word of hope, encouragement & grace.  We can be an agent of love for them, so they can respond to the eternal longing in their soul.  It's not about manipulation or coercion... it's about connecting with the Savior of the World... the One who loves us all... and wants to shelter us.  All of us.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Card-holding AARP'ers?!?!

"...And here I am today, 85-years old.  I am still as strong today as I was on the day that Moses sent me... So now, give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day..."
(Joshua 14:10-12)

"Senior Citizens."  "Elders."  Those in their "Golden Years."  Call them what you will... just don't call them "elderly."  Caleb would never have been called "elderly."  He & Joshua were the only ones who believed God's promise of giving Israel the Promised Land.  He was part of a 40-day espionage endeavor, scouting out the aforementioned territory.  Ten of the twelve scouts said, "No!  We can't take it!  They're too powerful for us!"  But not Caleb.  He knew God would provide the victory, despite the apparent obstacles.

That was 45 years prior.  Now, at age 85, the Israelites are finally moving into the Promised Land.  They're dividing up territory.  Numerous battles have been fought... with more battles to come.  Caleb gets up to speak.  He's ready to finish what he knows God started!  "Give me this hill country," he cries.  He's ready to drive out those who resist.  "I'm still as strong today as I was (45 years ago)."

I don't doubt him!  I've had the honor of knowing men & women in their "mature years" who had incredible energy, vision & passion.  People like Gaius Thede, Shig Tanabe, Helen Williams, Maude Jensen, to name just a few.  Men & women who have taught me what it means to live in God's abundant grace - for a long, long time!  Thanks be to God for their witness... and the witness of countless other "Calebs" like them!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Comeback

"When all these things have happened to you... if you call them to mind... and return to the LORD your God, and you & your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul... then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you..."
(Deuteronomy 30:1-3)

God has just set a new agreement (covenant) with the people of Israel.  They're about to enter their new land and God wants to make sure they keep their relationship with Him a priority.  A lengthy list of "blessings & curses" takes place... and now it's up to the people.  They decide: blessing or curse?  Life or death?

But in chapter 30, God makes an interesting statement: no matter what happens to them (ie. blessings or curses), if the people use it as an opportunity to RETURN to God with all their heart & soul, then God will have compassion on them.

Life happens.  All the time.  All around us.  Good, bad & indifferent.  But how often do we use those experiences (whatever they may be) to draw our hearts back to God?  This passage from Deuteronomy 30 reminds us that's what's ultimately important.  The great Come-back... coming back to God... either out of blessings or struggles... that's what counts!  Amen to that!


[from May 17, 2010]

"Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully & with gladness of heart for the abundance of everything, therefore..."
(Deuteronomy 28:47)

Disaster.  Panic.  Pestilence.  Fever.  Inflammation.  Mildew.  Boils.  Ulcers.  Scurvy.  The itch.  Madness.  Blindness.  Confusion.  Robbed.  Abused.  Cuckolded.  Bereft.  These are just a few of the repercussions for NOT obeying God, says Deuteronomy 28.  (It's actually quite a foreboding list!  And probably the source of the idea that if things are going wrong in your life, it's due to your sin!)

But it's verse 47 that really grabbed my attention.  The people didn't serve God JOYFULLY and WITH GLADNESS OF HEART "for the abundance of everything."  Since "small kid time," we've been reminded (especially by our moms!) to be thankful.  Here, however, that's taken to a new level.  God has blessed us with abundance!  Look around.  All of us living in the USA have abundance - whether we feel "wealthy" or not.  But are our hearts glad because of it?  Are we joyful?

If the answer is no... we've been warned!  (We don't want to mess with "the itch!")


[from May 13, 2010]
"Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live & occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you."
(Deuteronomy 16:20)

NEW LAND!  New opportunities.  New responsibilities.  God is preparing the Israelites for their life in the promised land.  God is laying out the expectations for the people - from worship to relationships.  But God makes it clear ("crystal clear!") that He has one basic command when it comes to disputes among the people: JUSTICE!  Pursue justice.  Period.

God recognized the human tendency towards sin.  Bribes were a part of life, even "back in the day."  But God wants nothing to do with that.  "You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes..." (v.19).  God holds the people to a higher standard than the rest of society.

Justice is one of those things that most everyone believes in... at least in principle.  But putting it into practice... especially when it doesn't involve us personally... well, that's a bit harder.  We like to think of our "rights" as Americans... and demand what we're due.  But we don't often transfer that thinking to others.  We're at a time in our country where the poor economy is causing many to look more inward.  "If it doesn't directly affect me, I don't care."  But we should care!  We should be about seeking justice for ALL - those who are in power and those who are not... those who have resources at their disposal and those who don't... those who've been here a while, and those who are new... those who can speak for themselves and those who can't.


Maybe I need to open my eyes a bit more and look around.  How can I be about God's call to justice today?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blessing or Curse?

"See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God... and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known."
(Deuteronomy 11:26-28)

Some might call it an ultimatum. Others as a challenge. I think it's simply "the way it is." After receiving God's commandments on Mt. Sinai, God reminded the people of what they now had before them: both a blessing and a curse. If they lived the way God designed them to (relationally with God and others), then life would be a BLESSING! But if they went off on their own & did not live the right way, their lives would feel CURSED. Period.

I really don't see this as a Divine "threat"... but more of a reality check. God's commandments, when seen as a whole, are really about integrity of relationships. When we live in that integrity (with God and others), life is blessed. Why? Because that's how God set things up! When we honor God with our heart & actions... when we treat others with respect & sacred worth... when we are for creation... EVERYTHING & EVERYONE is blessed!!!

Unfortunately, it's human nature to "skew" toward being selfish. We are easily distracted & lose focus. We tend to seek our own interests, benefits, and desires. Those aren't always bad, but often move us away from God's plans for us. Thus, life never seems to be quite right. We miss out on the blessings & joy that God has in store for us.

This doesn't mean that we'll never have problems in life if we follow God's commands... stuff happens to the good an bad all the time. But there will be a sense of blessing even in the struggles, as we do follow God's will. That's a promise! Likewise, when we're wandering off on our own, even if "all is well," it will never quite seem enough. It's the way God "hardwired" us, if you will.

So what'll it be: blessing or curse?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


"On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.."
(1 Corinthians 12:22)

God didn't create us with many 'spare parts.'  Oh sure, if pressed, we can make do without a hand, or arm, or foot... heck, even with one less kidney!  But basically, we need ALL our body parts if we're going to function at our best - the way God intended.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul is reminding the beloved community in Corinth that no one is more "valuable" than another in the Body of Christ.  We all have gifts, roles & a place designed by God.  All are vital!  Evidently, some of the Corinthians were having problems with this.  Which got me thinking... have we changed all that much?  Despite our best intentions, I think it's human nature to want to "size people up."  We sort people out by how "useful" they appear to be to us.  Oh, we may never admit it to anyone... but I daresay we do it nonetheless.

So today's reading challenged me to think about these people (especially in the church) that seem to be the most "high maintenance."  The ones who push our buttons, seem to need the most help, or simply don't seem to do much at all!  What would it mean to begin thinking of them as INDISPENSABLE?  We may not know exactly why God has deemed them indispensable - but it's not our job to figure that out.  Our job is to love them... treasure them... encourage them... and honor them.

Who knows... maybe someone will be led to do the same to us!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Excessive Celebration?!?!

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God."
(1 Corinthians 10:31)

I love watching football!  We have season tickets to the University of Hawaii games, and it's such fun to follow the "Rainbow Warriors" during the fall season.  I also love watching NFL games - though I don't get to see many live, due to the hazards of being a pastor in Hawaii, when the games coincide with worship!

One of the big differences in the rules between the college & pro games is the "celebration rule."  Basically, there's absolutely NO CELEBRATING after a play in college (no matter how amazing it was)... while int he NFL, it can be done as long as it's not deemed "excessive."  So guys like Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco have a blast when they score a TD... or DE's celebrate after a sack... or RBs/WRs do a little "first down signal" after a big play.  Personally, I love it.  It's fun to watch (And guys like Chad get very creative sometimes in their celebrations!).

A few players will acknowledge God first.  Whether it's a simple gaze up to the heavens (sometimes with a finger pointing upwards, too)... or making the sign of the cross... or dropping to one knee in prayer... some players do give glory to God.  With millions of people watching, their first inclination is to credit the LORD.

The apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, had never heard of American football, of course.  But he had heard of the various religious controversies that community was dealing with.  Problems with communion (people getting drunk on communion wine - in church!) and eating (especially food that had been sacrificed to idols, then resold in the marketplace).  Some people got all worked up over these situations.

Paul comes down with the following simple reminder: WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT TO THE GLORY OF GOD.  Whether it's eating a meal, playing sports, traveling on vacation, going to school, driving to work, etc.  Whatever you do - do it with a heart for God... so others who ware around you and see you came come to know the goodness of the LORD.  I don't think this necessarily means that we have to be verbal about everything (shouting "Praise Jesus!" all the time).  But a grateful & thankful heart can be contagious.  If nothing else, it will change us.

PRAYER: "Oh Lord, may everything I do today be done for your glory... not my own.  AMEN."