Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Caveat

"If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people
will go to their home in peace."
(Exodus 18:23)

Everybody loves a GREAT IDEA! Especially we pastors. WE go to a Conference and hear what another church or leaders is doing (successfully!) and we get excited to try it out ourselves. We read a book or magazine article and want to implement the "latest and greatest" in our churches. And why not, right?! It's worth trying at least, isn't it? Well... maybe not!

Moses was having a problem. He was THE MAN for the newly-rescued Hebrew people. The people looked to him for everything. And it was wearing him out. His father-in-law, Jethro, saw this and suggested a change: put 'judges' in the mix... spiritually mature & trustworthy men... set them over groups of people, to decide the 'minor stuff.' Then Moses could handle the 'big stuff.' It was a great idea! But Jethro had one caveat: make sure God also tells you to do this!

That's the part that we Christian leaders often miss. Why waste time trying a great idea out, if God hasn't asked us to do it in the first place? All it becomes is a waste of time. But if God DOES lead us, then go for it! Full speed ahead!! Who knows... it might just help us "endure" as leaders, and give our people more of God's "peace!" We all want more of that, don't we!?!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Uneducated & Ordinary

"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus."
(Acts 4:13)

Jesus is gone.  The disciples are on their own.  Once a group of people locked up in a room, gripped with fear... now they are out proclaiming God's truth to all!  And sometimes (often?!) it got them in trouble!  Such is the case here today.  Peter & John have been arrested for speaking out.  And yet, they continue to preach with boldness.

What's interesting to me is how the people "recognized" who Peter & John were - it was their boldness AND the fact they were "uneducated & ordinary" men.  Evidently, the other "religious leaders" of the day were all scholars.  They'd been studying the Torah (Jewish Scriptures) since childhood & following in the footsteps of a rabbi.  They didn't live like everyone else.  They were set apart.  Literally.  They spoke differently.  They acted differently.  They weren't ordinary, that's for sure.

But here are Peter & John.  Regular guys.  Nothing fancy, pretentious or aloof.  Plain speech.  Powerful message. And the people noticed.  Jesus was remembered.  He was the one who took common people and gave them authority to do powerful things.  I wonder what reputation the Church has today?  Are our leaders (myself included) known to be "educated & extraordinary"?  That could be a good thing.  Then again, it could make us pretentious & aloof!  The Bible is full of "uneducated & ordinary" people doing extraordinary things, by the grace of God. 

So if you think you're "nothing special"... that you don't have much to offer... look out!  That's JUST the kind of person God likes to use!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Times of Refreshing

"Repent, therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the LORD..."
(Acts 3:19-20)

"Repent, so you'll be forgiven." That's what we're frequently instructed to do, right? Why? Because it's the right thing to do. That's the usual explanation, isn't it? We mess up all the time and need our sins to be forgiven, in order to live life to the fullest - the way God intended us to. But maybe there's more... maybe there's more to being forgiven than simply having our sins erased (stick with me here)...

Peter, in today's story (from Acts 3), talks about "times of refreshing" that come when we're forgiven. We are refreshed by the presence of the LORD in our lives, after our repentance. Times of refreshing. Moments when our spirits are renewed. Our burdens lifted. Our energy restored. Our hope fulfilled. Our peace empowered. Times of refreshing! And it all happened because we were willing to confess our sins.

Too often I think we feel that we have to maintain the outward appearances of "having it all together"... of being "in control"... and of "walking the talk" of our faith. But in reality, we don't always, do we?! That's our human nature. Nevertheless, there can be times of refreshing if we're honest with God and ourselves. Are you looking to be refreshed? Maybe it's just a confession away?!


[From March 23, 2010]

 "Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right, and brought them near him.  But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands, for Manasseh was the firstborn."
(Genesis 48:13-14)

Rules are rules.  Tradition is tradition.  And yet, they don't always work out the way they should.  Jacob was the 2nd-born of twins, yet he tricked and scammed his way into receiving the blessing reserved for the first-born.  Now, as he faces the end of his years, his favorite son, Joseph, presents his sons to be blessed: Ephraim & Manasseh.  And even though Joseph puts the eldest next to Jacob's right hand, Jacob intentionally crosses his hands and give the "right hand blessing" to the younger!

Did Jacob receive "spiritual knowledge" that Ephraim was "more blessed" by God?  Maybe.  Then again, it could be that Jacob simply had a soft spot in his heart for "younger brothers."  The great thing about this blessing, however, was that the older brother also got a "good" blessing (whereas all that Jacob's own older brother, Esau, got was 'the shaft!').  So at least, Jacob was a bit more sensitive than his father!  Nevertheless, how interesting to see how Jacob's history played a role in his grandkids' future!

Which, of course, got me thinking... what parts of my past will have a significant role in my children and/or grandchildren's future?  Will it be my experiences of pain and struggle... or moments of blessing?  God only knows... but I hope to at least be aware when it's happening.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Teaching Moment

"The LORD said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great & mighty nation... No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness & justice...'"
 (Genesis 18:17-19)

The infamous "destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah" is about to take place.  Thus far, God and Abe have spoken a few times and they seem to have an amiable relationship.  But something big is about to go down.  Now God doesn't owe Abe anything... no explanation... no rationale for his actions... no warning, even.  Sure, Abraham's nephew, Lot, is an inhabitant of Sodom... but God has never promised Abraham that Lot would be covered under the same blessing that Abe was under.

Anyway, as soon as I read this today, my soul paused.  Did I just read that correctly?  God is operating out of a "Big Picture" view of things (which is how God always operates, actually!)... and has decided to make this a TEACHING MOMENT.  I remember when my kids were in preschool, and we were encouraged to use "teaching moments" to pass on life lessons whenever they popped up! 

So instead of simply doing what he needed to do to Sodom & Gomorrah, God chose to let Abe in on the plan.  Not because God wasn't sure about it... or needed a consultation... or even because he wanted to see if Abe would try and "bargain him down."  No, God wanted Abe to understand that there are consequences for our actions.  God had heard the "cries" that were raised because of the sinfulness of those two wicked cities.  And God knew how important Abe would be to the future generations.  How Abraham raised his children would set the precedence for countless people to come.  God didn't want to spare Abe the discomfort and pain of knowing what was about to happen... so hopefully, as the future leader of a 'great nation," Abe would comprehend that which leads to destruction.  God taught Abe so Abe could teach his kids so they could teach their kids, etc.

Wow.  Divine teaching moments.  I bet they're not only found in the Bible, are they?!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Go Home!

"But Jesus refused, and said to him, 'Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the LORD has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.'"
(Mark 5:19)

He was one of "those guys."  You know what I'm talking about, right?  Those guys you see from time to time.  Those "weirdos."  The crazy ones.  The ones you'd never be caught hanging around - because they're so unstable and usually out of control.  This particular guy live in the cemetery ("among the tombs").  He used to be chained & shackled, but had broken free from that bondage (ouch!) and no one could restrain him anymore (nor wanted to try!).  Plus, he was always howling and hurting himself with stones.  What a wacko!

But then he met Jesus.  Jesus cast out the demons who were possessing him (another amazing story - see verses 9-13!).  That was great for "the guy," for he was restored to his right mind.  But it freaked out the townsfolk... and they begged Jesus to leave (go figure!).  So as Jesus was leaving, "the guy" came back to him and begged Jesus to allow him to come with.  A new recruit!  The 13th disciple?  Which makes sense, considering how "his people" had treated him in the past.  I can almost hear him tell Jesus, "There's nothing left for me here" (ala Luke Skywalker speaking to Obi Wan Kenobi on Tatooine).

But Jesus refused.  Flat out.  Which sounds kinda harsh, doesn't it?  Until we read Jesus' reasoning: "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the LORD has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you."  So evidently, even "those guys" have a few friends.  Instead of embarking on a whirlwind missionary tour with Jesus, he's told to go home and tell others what happened to him.

We're in the early stages of preparing to launch a new ministry at Aiea UMC.  It's going to be a house church program... specifically designed for people who'd probably never set foot in an "established" church (whether it be a traditional church building or even a cafeteria-turned-worship-center).  But they have friends.  And they'd probably be okay with going over to that friends' house to share a meal and talk about "stuff that matters."  "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the LORD has done for you," Jesus said.

Authentic relationships lead to authentic community... which (by the grace of God) leads to authentic faith.  Hey, maybe Jesus was on to something here!  I wonder what we could share with our friends about what God has done for us...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


"Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus."
(Revelation 14:12)

My son, Ezra, just finished his sophomore season playing high school varsity soccer.  This year they only had 14 rostered players.  Period.  All season.  Actually, that's not true.  They had 12 during the league playoffs... and 11 during the state tournament.  (By the way, in case you're not that familiar with soccer, 11 players are on the field at one time per team.  So, yah... to say they were a bit "thin" (no depth) would be an understatement!)

Ezra's team was forced to be in great condition.  No rests.  Running the whole game.  Endurance was the key.  By the end of the season, their superior conditioning actually helped them excel against teams that weren't in the same shape (one playoff game, in particular, came after being down 0-3... and they came back to win 4-3 in OT!).

The book of Revelation is unquestionably THE MOST DIFFICULT book in the Bible to read.  Actually, it really isn't "reading" that's the problem... it's understanding that's the killer!  So much of the symbolism & imagery was specific to the time period it was written in.  But one thing is clear: there will be challenges & struggles for those who follow Jesus.  Evil will be constantly "butting heads" with goodness.  It will not be easy.  So the key through it all is simple: endurance!  Building up the "thickness of our skins" so when we face challenges in life (and to our faith) - and we WILL face those challenges - we will be able to endure.  We'll have the Big Picture of God's Kingdom in mind.  We'll be able to "keep on keepin' on."

I guess that old sports adage is true: "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."  May we play with endurance!  AMEN.