Friday, April 30, 2010

A Missed Moment...

"The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 'Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water...'"
(Numbers 20:7-8)

The people were grumbling... again.  This time they were thirsty.  Really thirsty.  They felt like they were dying of thirst.  So Moses & Aaron prayed to God and God came up with a plan: Get the people together, grab your staff & command water to come from the big rock nearby.  So Mo gathered the people, picked up his staff... and whacked the rock... twice!  Water gushed!  The day was saved, right?!?  Wrong.  God was upset with Moses.

Tradition tells us God's anger stemmed from Mo's act of striking the rock.  Too much drama!  God said "command" not "brutalize" the rock!  Many of us clergy tend to gravitate to the dramatic side of things.  Maybe God appreciates more subtlety??

But maybe there's something more here.  Just before Moses struck the rock, he issued a statement to the people: "Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" (v.10).  Now maybe Mo was using the "collective we" to mean God & him.  But more likely the "we" referred to Aaron & him.  When God was talking to Moses after the event, He chided Moses for not trusting "in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites" (v.12).  Did Mo think he'd surely have to HIT the rock for the water to come out (thus he didn't trust God's call for a mere "command")... or could it be the way he wnet about things put all the focus on him, not on God?  "Shall WE bring water for you...?" 

How different would it have been for the people to have heard something along the lines of: "God has heard your cries & knows your needs.  He wants you to believe that he will provide for you.  So I say to the rock, in the Name of the Most High God, 'BRING FORTH WATER!'"

It's human nature to want attention, adulation, and glory... even (especially?!) among those of us in the "shepherding business."  May God continue to search my heart & motives.... and remind me that it's my job to make God famous, not myself.  May I never have a "missed moment" to do just that...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Make Our Days Count

[from Monday, April 27, 2010]

"So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart."
(Psalm 90:12)

Today I'm participating in the funeral (memorial!) service of Presley Tagaloa.  He died at the age of 23 from complications resulting from his ongoing battle with leukemia.  Presley had been serving with the Army Reserves in Kuwait & Iraq.  He was strong, powerful & consistent... until leukemia attacked his body.

Twenty-three years. That's much, much, much too young to die.  And yet it happens quite often.  Young people die long before they've had a chance to live the life God gave them.  Some die related to the choices they've made in life.  Others, like Presley, get dealt cards they had nothing to do with choosing.

"Life is short," the saying goes.  How true.  Even for those of us who make it beyond 23, in the grand scheme of things, human life is short.  Psalm 90 understands this.  The author writes: "So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart."  I believe this is calling us to be aware of each day we're alive.  Appreciate everything.  Make our days count.  God can fill every moment with meaning, if we'll be intentional about it... and about looking to Him for guidance.

Thank you, Lord, for Presley... and for this day that you have granted me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Just do the RIGHT thing.

"If any of your kin fall into difficulty & become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear God; let them live with you."
(Leviticus 25:35-36)

There's an old saying, 'You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family." Some have been blessed with strong family ties and close relationships. Others, well... not so much. Maybe that's why people have such mixed feelings when visiting relatives. They love to see them (most of the time), but often can't stand staying with them for any period of time. And that's just vacation. Living together permanently would be out of the question!

Leviticus 25 has an interesting couple of verses about family... and obligations... and hospitality... and residing together. Should relatives of yours "fall into difficulty," God instructs (commands!?!) us to take them in and provide for their needs. Period. No charging rent... or interest... or making any kind of profit off of them. Instead, "Fear God." (Translation: Just do it because God knows it's the right thing to do!)

Blood is thicker than water, they say. And thicker = more responsibility. Responsibility (carried out in the right way) is a way to express love. When we express love to others, we "fear God" (in a good way). And that's the right thing to choose all the time. AMEN.

All In

{From April 16, 2010}

"Then Paul answered, 'What are you doing, weeping & breaking my heart?  For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.'"
(Acts 21:13)

Sacrifice.  Vision.  Serenity.  Paul was so focused on his mission & calling from God that all three of these elements are present in Acts 21.  A prophetic word was spoken about his future in Jerusalem (should he continue on his journey) - he would be bound.  But Paul knew what he'd gotten himself into.   He was ready.  He would continue his ministry for Jesus and let everything else fall into place.  He was all in.  He was committed to living out Jesus' call to "deny thyself, take up your cross & follow."  No matter where that road would lead.

When I went to South Korea in 2005, I was struck by the vision of ministry that BuPyung Methodist Church had for Southeast Asia.  They were committed to sharing the love of Jesus with all - including the "tough places" where it was dangerous to do so.  Places like China, Vietnam & India.  Rev. Hong (the senior pastor) even commented how after he retires from being the lead pastor at BuPyung, he wanted to go back into the mission field himself... and how he'd be willing to give up his life for Christ, should it come to that.  And he was completely serious.  To be honest, that wasn't a commitment I thought I could make at the time.

Here in the US, we're extremely insulated from sacrifice & suffering - when it comes to our faith.  We have no clue what others go through around the world for their beliefs.  But we also don't know the peace & joy that comes from going "all in" for Him.  We have so much to learn...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


"Then Moses said to Aaron, 'This is what the LORD meant when he said, "Through those who are near me I will show myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified."' And Aaron was silent."
(Leviticus 10:3)

Bizarre story today. Two of Aaron's sons (the OT priestly family) "offered unholy fire" before God, and paid for it with their lives. I'm not exactly sure what "offering unholy fire" actually means... but whatever it was, God didn't ask them to do it, nor did he approve of their actions. Was it arrogance on their part ('I can do whatever I want!')? Were they "experimenting" with the divine/holy practices? Were they being intentionally devious... or just merely stupid?

In a time when clergy sexual scandals abound - whether it be the molestation of children, or adulterous relationships exposed... "offering unholy fire" seems rather tame in comparison (and we haven't even mentioned embezzlement!). But Moses' statement puts it all in the proper perspective: Those of us who re-present God are called to be HOLY. Period.

Sure, nobody's perfect. However, we clergy are indeed held to higher standards precisely because of our calling. Right or wrong, when others see us, they see God (or at least God's ambassadors). So it's best for us to err on the side of prudence, caution & reverence. Then we must look to the Holy Spirit for guidance & grace, in spite of our weaknesses. Otherwise, we'll simply be "playing with (unholy) fire!"

The Quest

{from Monday, 4/12/10}

"From one ancestor, (God) made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us."
(Acts 17:26-27)

Part of our human nature (a big part, probably) is to search and quest.  We have that "hunter/gatherer/explorer" mentality hard-wired into our very beings (at least we guys seem to!).  Paul, in a speech (actually, sermon) to the people of Athens, said that God created us this way.  But the greatest search is to quest for God himself!  But despite popular opinion, it's not a vain & empty search, either.  God WANTS us to find him!  "Indeed, he is not far from each one of us."

When we were younger and played hide-n-seek, the goal was to hide where no one could find you.  Thank God that GOD doesn't act that way.  God is near to us... and desires that we find him!  All we have to do is look/search/grope.  It's just that easy.

Have you searched for Him lately?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Answered Prayer (Surprise!)

"While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently for him."
(Acts 12:5)

It's not unexpected to read about the early church praying for someone. And it's also not unexpected that the person they're praying for (in this case, Peter) has been thrown in prison. The early Christians were repeatedly harassed and arrested because of their perceived "threat" to the Jewish community.

What was surprising, however, was what happened to Peter - God rescued him from prison in the middle of the night! Not only that, but he went straight to Mary's house (John Mark's mom) - where he knew the believers were meeting. In fact, they were praying for his release there! But when he knocked on the door, no one (except Rhoda, the maid who answered the door) believed it really was Peter!

I find it curious that the very thing they people were praying for happened - yet they couldn't believe it was possible. Wow. How often does that also happen with us? "Lord, I believe. But hep my unbelief." Amen to that.

Donkey Grace

[From April 1, 2010... no joke!]

"When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free."
(Exodus 23:5)

Normally I'm not a big "rules" guy.  I don't get excited about excessive rules & regulations, restrictions & laws.  I'm all for the "less is more" approach, combined with the "be excellent to one another" adage.  But as I read through the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament, I'm fascinated by them!  Many of them are very practical and logical at the same time!

What struck me this morning was this solitary law from Exodus 23, verse 5, concerning "fallen donkeys" (a very current problem for most of us today, too! lol).  The verse prior says that if you see your enemy's lost donkey, bring it back!  Period.  Verse 5 takes it one step further.  If you see the donkey of "one who hates you" (you don't necessarily have to have a problem with them, but they've got something against you)... and it has collapsed under a heavy burden, SET IT FREE.  The law recognizes our first response is to leave it alone (probably out of spite).  But God says no.  Go beyond your differences.  Do what's right.  Se the animal free.

Many have the idea that the OT is full of anger, violence, and retribution... while the NT is full of grace.  I, however, find many elements of grace in the OT... including this example of "donkey grace!"  And from the beginning... the Bible reminds us that God calls us to a lifestyle of grace for others.  Wow.  May I live into that expectation!