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!