Friday, February 26, 2010


"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love."
(1 John 4:18)

The book of 1st John talks a lot about love. A lot! The basic premise is this: "God is love. God loves us. We show our love for God by loving others." That's the main theme... and the writer spins off variations on that theme, too. Including the statement that "there is no fear in love."

This is interesting in light of that famous bible verse: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1:7). Is this a contradiction to 1 John 4:18? I don't think so. I think "the fear of the Lord" in Proverbs is dealing more with "reverence," "awe," and "respect"... while 1 John 4:18 is talking about actual fear - being afraid of punishment & retribution. The author of 1 John reminds us over and over that God is about love, forgiveness and grace. That He wants the very best for us, so we need not be afraid of God.

But I also feel compelled to make a jump into our relationship with others. We show our love for God by how we love others... so there should be NO loving relationships that are motivated by fear. True love does not threaten, coerce, or manipulate. That's not love. If you're in a relationship like that... if you're using power & influence over another to keep them in a "loving relationship" out of fear - it's NOT a loving relationship. There is so much more to true love.

God knows our weaknesses. God still loves us... and calls us into that life-giving love relationship. Have no fear! AMEN.

"All was now finished!"

[FROM Thursday, 3/25]

"After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), 'I am thirsty.'"
(John 19:28)

The crucifixion of Jesus.  It's probably the most portrayed event in Jesus' life.  More than any story he told, any miracle he performed, more than even his birth or resurrection.  Books have been written about it, films made, songs sung, sermons preached, etc.  Paintings deptict it.  Crucifixes (cross necklaces) remember it.  The crucifixion is everywhere.

But today as I was reading, my heart alighted on John 19:28... "After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished..." First I had to look back at what "this" was.  Immediately preceding this verse, Jesus "gave" his mother to "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John!?).  Was this the last "loose end" Jesus needed to tie up before his death?  I think it's more than that...

I don't know at what point it was exactly... when he was "left behind" in Jerusalem at age 12... or at his baptism by John at age 30... or after his temptation in the wilderness... or some time into his ministry with his disciples... or heck, even earlier in his life that we don't have record of in Scripture... but at some point, Jesus figured out WHO he was!  He saw the "Big Picture."  He grasped how he fit into the Eternal Plan for God's Kingdom.  He knew that the way he would love the people would eventually lead to his death.

So Jesus worked hard to prepare his disciples for the Big Picture.  He wanted them to not only get what it is he wanted them to do... but begin to understand why Jesus did what he did (including offer his life as a sacrifice for all).

What a burden Jesus bore.  To make sure everything fell into place as God intended!  Talk about stress & pressure.  And now, hanging no the cross, after entrusting his mother into the care of one of his closest friends, Jesus realized "all was now finished."  Wow.  What a moment of realization.  now he could let go.  Now he could give up his spirit.  He didn't have to fight or be storng anymore (and God knew exactly what he had been going through, and the impact it was having on him!).

All was now finished.  Indeed.  Well done, good and faithful servant.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Soul Guardian

"For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls."
(1 Peter 2:25)

Jody and I have had the pleasure of spending an entire month in England... twice!  The majority of our time we spent up north in the Lake District.  It's absolutely gorgeous there - mountains, rivers, valleys, lakes, trees, rocks... and sheep.  Lots of sheep.  They're everywhere.

Now, having not grown up around sheep, I was surprised at how much "roaming" was a part of their "M.O."  A sheep owner basically turns them loose in a particular section of his/her property, and the sheep move around freely over the entire area.  And "move freely" is really more like an understatement!  Eventually, they'd get rounded up to come in for the night or to move to a new area of the property.

The writer of 1 Peter likens our tendency as humans to stray from God's will to that of sheep.  We wander.  A lot!  This revelation is nothing new.  But the very next part of this revelation is that we have returned to Christ, "the shepherd and guardian of your souls."  It's common to think of Jesus as "The Good Shepherd."  That's a metaphor we've heard many times before.  But what struck me today was the 2nd part - the guardian of our souls part.

For those outside the faith, I think there's a perception that God is this authority figure who metes out punishment from above.  It's our job to "get in line" and straighten up.  But the Bible paints a much different picture.  It speaks of a God who searches for the lost.  A God of infinite compassion & grace.  A God who longs for our presence and company and is quick to forgive our sins.  And now in 1 Peter 2, we're told this same God is the "guardian of our souls."  Wow!  The shepherd doesn't just feed the sheep & bring them in for the night.  S/He also guards the sheep to keep them safe from those "outside forces" that are a danger to them.  So it is with Christ!  Think about the passion and commitment needed to be a "guardian."  And to guard something as precious and sacred as a soul?  Awesome!  Why would I ever want to leave (or stray from) the One who loves me that much? 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Guess who's here?!?"

"Has not God chosen the poor int he world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?"
(James 2:5)

We pastors LOVE it when new visitors come to worship (at least those of us with churches small enough to recognize when a new person shows up!).  First & foremost, it's the fact that someone else may be blessed through our worshiping together - whether or not they've been a Christian for a while or are at an earlier stage in their faith journey.  Here at Aiea United Methodist Church, we have a large military population, and often military folk come with families... so that's also exciting - the chance for children & youth to become involved, too.  Occasionally we have people who are already leaders come (military officers, business professionals, etc.).  The opportunity for them to get involved in the leadership of the church is so exciting!  And then sometimes an older "local couple" comes... and it's wonderful to see that they're still eager to be involved in a church family.

The author of James recognizes the "allure" of potential new members (aka "visitors") to churches.  But s/he highlights a completely different demographic from what I've been thinking about.  THE POOR!  We have a tendency to get excited by people "with means" who visit.  We roll out the red carpet and trip over ourselves to make them feel comfortable.  But God gets excited about the poor coming to worship!  Why?  They are "rich in faith" and "heirs of the kingdom."  To think that they provide a perspective that we so desperately need - that might change the way we think about them!

PRAYER: "O God, help us open wide our arms of welcome to any and all poor who enter our sanctuary (or church).  Rather than feel condescending and superior, help us to recognize the deep faith & conviction to Your kingdom that they bring.  And forgive our arrogance & favoritism.  AMEN."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Of Tongs & Pasta Spoons

"All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated & useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work."
(2 Timothy 2:21)
I enjoy cooking.  I'm no gourmet... nor could you classify me as a "foodie" (and if you don't know what that is, then you're not one either!).  But it's enough to get by.  In the kitchen, then, I have a number of favorite "cooking implements."  There are specific pots & pans I'll select over others to use... as well as utensils I prefer.  For example, I love our pasta spoon - nice solid plastic handle, cool plastic black ladle with "pukas" (holes) - very effective!  Certain tongs are better than others in my kitchen.  And I'll select the plastic over the wooden spoons... just a few of my preferences.

Paul uses cooking utensil imagery in his 2nd letter to Timothy.  He gives Timothy a list of activities to avoid (v.14-19), including wrangling over words & profane chatter.  If you do this, says Paul, you'll be like a special utensil (as opposed to an ordinary, every-day utensil) to be used by God for good works.  In Jewish households, they had some utensils that were set apart as special/sacred.  Paul is encouraging the believers to be that for God.  Just think, taming our tongues can make us more available to be used by God for good works!  Just like I always pick that one plastic pasta spoon.  It gets used while so many others just sit in my utensil carrier.  I want to be used by God, too.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sing! Sing! Sing!

"And with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God."
(Colossians 3:16b)

I remember going to Disneyland as a child and loving the exhibit "America Sings" (active from 1974-1988).  It was a rotating theater that moved through the music of various regions of the country (The Deep South, The Old West, the Gay (18)90's, and Modern Times).  Audio-animatronic singing animals are always so captivating (don'cha think?!).  Actually, music has always been a big part of my life.  I sang in the choir at church... was involved in school & church musicals... loved listening to the radio... bought records & cassette tapes as a kid... etc.  Today, music is also one of the keys to my spiritual life.

In Colossians 3, Paul reminds the beloved community to SING!  "Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs."  Sing the scriptures (psalms)... the great songs of the church over the ages (hymns)... and anything new that connects to God (spiritual songs).  Music is a wonderful conduit, as well as a "heart regulator."  Paul calls us to sing from the wellspring of gratitude in our hearts.

In this age of "American Idol," it seems that people are singing more to be judged (or to shine!).  We're quick to point out another's musical shortcomings &/or talent.  Some still karaoke for fun... but many of us seem to have lost the passion to sing regularly.  Nevertheless, Paul calls us all to "sing for gratitude."  Sing because of God's amazing grace!  There need not be any other reason.  Let your hearts overflow with thanksgiving, and sing out without shame!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


"Pay to all what is due them - taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due."
(Romans 13:7)

It's officially February now.  Time to start working on taxes.  (Actually, full disclosure here... Jody does all the tax-prep work for us!)  For most of us, it's not a question of "IF" we will pay taxes (like it was in Jesus' day)... but rather "WHEN" (as in how close to the 1:59pm deadline on April 15th?!).  Giving people respect & honor, however, is another story.

Towards t he end of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul encourages the believers to do 4 things: Give the taxes, revenue, respect & honor that is due people.  Period.  It's the last 2 categories that struck me today. 

We in America value our freedom - including free speech.  We exercise that speech quite often in expressing our displeasure with people - elected officials, soccer referees, our bosses, law enforcement, criminals, the homeless, Drug addicts & Drug dealers, cable/phone repair people, etc.  Some of them, by their position and/or title are truly due respect - whether we agree with their policies/actions/statements or not.  We frequently do NOT afford respect to many of them.  And honor?  Wouldn't Jesus have wanted us to treat ALL people with love & honor?  Probably.  He did.  Again, there are many we don't grant honor to.  "But they don't deserve it!" you say to me.  Maybe that's true.  But Jesus challenged us (commanded us!) to love our enemies & pray for those who hurt (or frustrate, anger, embarrass) her.

Respect & honor.  I'm sure I could be giving more of them both than I currently do.

How about you?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Avoiding the "one-fingered salute"

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all."
(Romans 12:17)

In the 12th chapter of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul gets on a roll with short, pithy, bullet-point-type exhortations.  Including:
  • Hate evil, love good...
  • Show honor...
  • Rejoice in hope...
  • Be patient in suffering...
  • Persevere in prayer...
  • Give to the saints...
  • Practice hospitality...
  • Bless your enemies...
  • Live in harmony with others...
  • Be humble...
Then in verse 17 he challenges them (us!) to not repay evil for evil.  Wow.  This is a tough one for many of us humans, isn't it?  It seems like a natural instinct to want to strike back when we've been wounded - verbally, emotionally, physically.  Heck, even driving I have problems not shouting out at crazy drivers who are clueless, careless, or have no "road etiquette."   And that's just a little thing, too.  The big stuff in life is even harder!

Paul gives a short note on a pathway for us to follow in these challenging situations: "Take thought for what is noble in the sight of all."  What is noble.  Hmmm.... So instead of shooting back a snide remark... lifting a not-so-kind finger in protest... or intentionally inflicting some physical or emotional pain upon one who has hurt us... we're challenged to be above that... to think nobly... to seek that which is honorable.  In all situations.  Wow.  That's not always easy to do.  However, as followers of Jesus, we believe that God's Holy Spirit can help us respond in loving & noble ways - even when we ourselves might not be inclined to do so.  What a gift!

PRAYER: This world is not short on evil, Lord.  But that doesn't make it right to respond likewise.  Empower me to be able to focus on the noble reactions to others - even when they've "wronged" me... (and especially while I'm driving!).  AMEN.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


"In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Chris, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God."
(Romans 6:4)

I'm starting to watch the much-acclaimed HBO crime drama of the mid 2000's: THE WIRE. Centering around a special police unit in Baltimore, we get to see the ups-n-downs of both life "on the street" and "on the beat."  Both sides of the equation look to use the law to the full extent (either staying out of trouble, or getting folks into it!).  What stands out in this series is the blurred line between the "good guys" and the "bad guys."  Most characters have a mix of both.  Kinda like real life.

In Romans 7, Paul is speaking to those within Judaism who feel bound to fulfill the Laws of Moses.  He uses the analogy of a married relationship.  The wife is "bound" to her husband as long as he lives.  She can't run off and "hook up" with another man while her husband is a live (and vice versa).  But if he dies, then she's free to marry another.  She can transfer her loyalty without restraint.

The same is true for followers of Christ, Paul says.  When we make our commitment to Jesus, we "die to ourselves."  We're no longer bound to the (Mosaic) Law - to the obligation of trying to earn God's love & grace through "being a good person" (ie. our strict adherence to the rules & regs).  Instead, we're free to accept the NEW RELATIONSHIP with Christ.  A relationship that makes us whole not by our actions, but by our faith.

Sometimes, however, we Christians forget that we're no longer "wedded" to the law... we lapse back into trying to earn God's favor.  WRONG!  That's like spiritual adultery.  Does that mean we don't have any moral standards to live up to anymore?  Of course not.  For out of the grace & forgiveness in Christ, we (hopefully) want to live as new people!  It becomes a life of joy, rather than compulsion.

I'm only a few episodes into the first season of THE WIRE... but I can already see the signs of impending struggles that a life spent with "The Law" brings (both internally - within a person, and externally - in relation to others).  Thanks be to God for the gift of grace & freedom from the opporession of needing to try and live under the Law... through Jesus Christ our Lord!  AMEN.