Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Every man dies... but not every man really lives!"

"He lived there 2 whole years at his own expense an welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance."  
(Acts 28:30-31)

BRAVEHEART is one of my top 10 movies.  It's full of courage, battles, romance, intrigue, passion & lots of action!  The one line that's consistently remembered from it, however, comes near the very end.  William Wallace (the lead) has finally been arrested & is facing execution for treason.  When an influential friend comes to plead for him to beg the king for mercy, he says he won't.  "But you'll die.  It will be awful," she protests.  "Every man dies," he replies... "But not every man really lives."

Never has that saying been so true as with the life of Paul.  A man who lived 110% all his days - from his Jesus-hating early years of persecuting the Believers... to his record-setting church-planting later days of Christian mission work - Paul gave his all.

I was reading the end of the book of ACTS today.  Paul had quite a harrowing ordeal at sea - storms, shipwreck, snake attack, & finally safety.  It's the stuff of a good movie!  But the end seemed a bit disappointing (at least from a cinematic standpoint).  It read: "He lived there 2 whole years at his own expense an welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance."  I wanted to know about his death.  How'd he die?  What happened?  Was it awful or did he go peacefully?  Paul eventually was executed, but we hear nothing of it in the New Testament.  Why?

I think we should go back to William Wallace for insight.  "Every man dies... but not every man really lives."  Paul wasn't worried about dying.  He wasn't concerned about it in the least.  He'd entrusted himself to God's care.  He WAS concerned with how he LIVED!  And even in prison - every held on trumped-up charges - even thousands of miles away from home, he proclaimed the gospel and told others about Jesus.  Right up to the very end. 

That's what it means to truly live.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Strengthen my hands..."

"Then I sent him a letter, saying, 'No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind' - for they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, 'Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.'  But now, O God, strengthen my hands."
(Nehemiah 6:8-9)

Nehemiah & a band of Israelites have returned from Babylonian captivity and are attempting to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem.  This was a very good thing for the people of Israel, but their "enemies" were not happy one bit.  Nehemiah tells us that "Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab" in particular were upset at these developments.  They tried to lure Nehemiah away from the city to do him harm.  They tried to get him to run afraid into the Temple, to smear his reputation among his own people.  They even tried making false testimony against him to the Babylonian king.  But Nehemiah wouldn't budget.  He recognized it for what it truly was - attempts to get him to stop the project.  In the end, Nehemiah resolutely prays, "But now, O God, strengthen my hands."

I love that short prayer!  Seven words.  One message.  "But now, O God, strengthen my hands."  The Bible tells us over and over that the ways of God will be opposed by others.  It happens all the time.  So first, let us not be surprised when it does happen!  We should expect conflict & opposition.  Second, don't let it get us down!  If what we are doing is truly a "God thing," then take courage and pray that God will strengthen our hands... no matter what we may be up against!

For all that you are calling me to do at Aiea UMC... Lord, strengthen my hands.
For all that you are calling me to do in my family... Lord, strengthen my hands.
For all that you are calling me to change in my own heart... Lord, strengthen my hands.
For who you are calling me to be in the world around me... Lord, strengthen my hands.

We wanted soldiers, but...

[From December 9, 2011]

"Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might deny ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions."
(Ezra 8:21) 

The phrase, 'The Lord works in mysterious ways' is used quite a bit among the faithful... usually because it's so true!  Today's reading from Ezra 7-8 is a prime example.  Many Israelites had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians and forced to remain there for close to 70 years.  Their eventual return came in four stages: Sheshbazzar's group (when Cyrus was king)... Zerubbabel & Jeshua's group (when Darius I was king)... Ezra's group (when Artaxerxes I was king)... and Nehemiah's group (Artaxerxes II was king).

Today I was reading about the 3rd group - led by Ezra.  King Artaxerxes not only allowed them to return to Israel, but gave them money to buy "worship supplies" (animals for sacrifice, etc.) and a letter instructing other Babylonian treasuries to give them additional funds, if needed.

Before setting out, Ezra did a couple of things I think are excellent.  First, he gave thanks: "Blessed be the LORD, the God of our ancestors, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king to glorify the house of the LORD in Jerusalem..."  Second, he gathered the people together before leaving, and called them to fast and pray for their safe return to Jerusalem.  That's not really surprising, as this happens many times in Scripture.  But the candor expressed by Ezra is!  He writes, "For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king that the hand of our God is gracious to all who seek him, but his power and his wrath are against all who forsake him."

I love that!  He wanted a guard of soldiers for protection... but that would contradict his earlier testimony to the King about God's provision!  So instead, Ezra called the people to fast & pray.  God works in mysterious ways - to call us to a life of faithfulness.

As Christians... as leaders... as people of faith... we may not always have "saint-like" belief.  We can struggle and doubt with the best of them.  But will it draw us closer to God in the end?  Will it bring us to the LORD in prayer?  Will we deny ourselves (and our trust in our strength/ability to accomplish our plans) and seek God's favor (and strength!)?  Because that's what ultimately matters.

(Oh yah, Ezra & Co. eventually made it home safely.  Praise the Lord!)

Look Who's Coming for Christmas?

[From Dec. 2, 2011]

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  Lo, your King comes to you; triumphant & victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the Earth."
(Zechariah 9:9-10)

Normally this passage is read on Palm Sunday... announcing Jesus' entry into Jerusalem during the final week of his life.  But I'm reading it during ADVENT.  I'm trying to prepare my heart for Christmas - the coming of a Savior.  In both seasons (Lent/Easter and Christmas), Jesus comes as a surprise to many.  We like our heroes to be strong, bold, brave, confident, valiant, sure, aggressive, and uncompromising.  Jesus has those qualities, sure... but not in the way we expect.  He comes with humility to "command peace to the nations."  Zechariah mentions this king as silencing the battle cry within Israel (Ephraim chariots and Jerusalem war-horses).  Much of the work of the Messiah happens within us - not to our enemies.  Are WE really ready to be changed this Christmas?


[From Nov. 30, 2011]

"Jerusalem shall be inhabited like villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and animals in it.  For I will be a wall of fire all around it, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within it."
(Zechariah 2:4b-5)

When we spent a month in England, we had the pleasure of visiting the city of York.  York is known for being one of the remaining "walled cities" in the UK.  Back in the day, it was crucial for a city to be walled - for protection, safety, and security.  Those outside the walls were extremely vulnerable to attack.

The prophet Zechariah knows about walled cities.  God grants him a vision (a man with a measuring line) and tells him that Jerusalem shall be "like villages without walls."  God will be "a wall of fire" around it.  They won't have to worry about protection and defense - God has their back!  Can you imagine the weight off their shoulders with news like that?  Now they're free to do things like draw closer to God and be about God's business of reconciliation and peace.  What a gift!

What would it mean for us to drop our "walls of defense & protection"?  What if we gave up trying to plan out our safety net of retirement, and instead focused on what God wanted us to be focusing on - His kingdom here and now... all around us!?!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Rethinking Interruptions

"On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done.  He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida.  When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured."
(Luke 9:10-11)

The 12 disciples have just returned from their first major "solo mission" of ministry.  Jesus had sent them out on their own, giving them "power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases... to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal."  Quite a big assignment.  Now that they've returned, Jesus knows they need some debriefing & recharging time together.  So Jesus sets out to take them on a private retreat - just the 13 of them.  Or so he thought.  It turns out it wasn't as private as he had hoped.  Luke tells us "the crowds found out about it and followed him."

Now, if it had been me, I would have gently (but firmly!) told the crowds that my staff and I needed a little time by ourselves.  We'd be unable for a few days.  Please come back at the end of the week and we could talk then.  I would have known how important it was to invest time in the staff, and to regain energy and vitality in order to continue the mission & ministry we needed to.

That's not how Jesus responded.  Luke says "he welcomed them."  He didn't just "endure" their interruption, he welcomed them.  And he gave them what they needed most - the good news about the kingdom of God (first & foremost!), and some healing. 

Maybe doing the mission (even when tired & worn out) is sometimes more important than "debriefing" the mission with colleagues.  I know how important it is to recharge.  But maybe today's interruption is the one and only opportunity someone will have to come to know God's amazing grace & provision.  Maybe I should rethink those pesky interruptions from time to time, myself.  What about you?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Your children's children

"The LORD bless you from Zion.  May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.  May you see your children's children.  Peace be upon Israel."
(Psalm 128:5-6)

Only six verses, Psalm 128 is a song of blessing.  If you fear God and walk in His ways, the psalmist prays numerous blessings upon you:
  • Abundant food
  • Happiness & prosperity
  • Many children (who grow up strong & healthy)
Then there are 2 more blessings tacked onto the end.  The one may "see the prosperity of Jerusalem."  That the capital city of Israel would also be healthy & strong (like one's children!).  And live in peace.  And second, that one may see one's "children's children."  Ah yes, the joy of grandkids!

We need to remember, however, that the life expectancy was much less back in Biblical days, so living into one's "senior years" wasn't as common.  To live long enough to see grandchildren was indeed a blessing.  But it's more than just long life, isn't it?  It's the chance to see a part of you - your DNA - in teh life of a new human.  When we become parents, we know very little about parenting.  By the time we become grandparents (or so I'm told), we bring added wisdom.  Being with our grandkids is truly a joy and blessing! 

May it be so with all of you.

Glorious Splendor

"On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate."
(Psalm 145:5)

My dad was a National Park ranger.  I grew up with an affinity for the great outdoors.  I fondly remember summer visits to Yellowstone NP while spending time with my grandparents in Montana.  We also visited the Grand Canyon & many other smaller parks and sites in the desert southwest.  In high school, I lived in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and had many an after-school hike along the park's trails.  In college, a 7-day stay in Yosemite was seminal.  In grad school one summer, Jody and I went camping in Arcadia NP (Maine).  Needless to say, my soul connects to God powerfully through His natural splendor.

The author of Psalm 145 seems to know what I mean!  "On the glorious splendor of your majesty and on your wondrous works, I will meditate."  Living in Hawaii is such a blessing!  There is beauty all around me in God's creation.  Trees, plants, flowers, ocean, waterfalls, mountains, sunsets, clouds, rocks, volcanoes, etc.  What wonderful opportunities to ponder & meditate on God's majesty. What about you?  Does your soul connect this way, too?  What glorious splendor have you seen lately?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An "Ezekiel 37 Revival"

"Then he said to me, 'Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  They say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely."'"
(Ezekiel 37:11)

It's a dramatic scene.  Thousands upon thousands of dry bones scattered throughout a valley.  Death.  Decay.  Brokenness.  Hopelessness.  But into this setting God speaks a word of life.  Through the prophet Ezekiel, God's power comes and rejoins bone to bone... then muscle & sinews... then flesh... then God's breath enters & brings LIFE!  It's one of the more memorable passages in all scripture.

Whenever I've read this before, my heart has been drawn to the truth that God can bring new life to any dry, dead & "dismembered" soul.  No one is outside the reach of God's redemption.

But today as I was reading I noticed this vision is being applied to the entire NATION of Israel, not just an individual.  I knew this was addressed to the people in exile - people who'd been taken from their homeland and families & forced to live in Babylon for close to two generations.  They were definitely a people who felt dry, dead & dismembered. But God was telling them the entire nation would be brought back together & given new life.  This went far beyond one single individual.

What would it mean for our nation to be "resurrected" to new life?  For God to restore our hope, our passion, our faithfulness?  Depending on your political views, you probably can list a number of areas that we need to be restored as a people.  As Americans, we tend to think more individually than corporately.  God is seeking to restore nations.  Maybe we can be praying for an "Ezekiel 37 Revival" in the United States?!?

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Return

"In those days and in that time, says the LORD, the people of Israel shall come, they & the people of Judah together; they shall come weeping as they seek the LORD their God.  They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, and they shall come and join themselves to the LORD by an everlasting covenant that'll never be forgotten."
(Jeremiah 50:4-5)

The exile was one of the most difficult times for the people of Israel.  Multiple generations were carried away from their homeland for 70+ years.  Forced to grow up in a foreign culture, it was hard for them to stay immersed in their faith.  The question of "WHY?" echoed loudly from many.  Prophets like Jeremiah & Isaiah saw the exile as God's chastisement & cleansing (which was long overdue).  God wanted them to return to Him with their whole hearts.  God had not forgotten or abandoned them.  God was changing them... for the better (though they didn't recognize that at first).

In Jeremiah 50, the prophet speaks of the time when the people will return to Israel.  Their physical return will match their spiritual return to Him.  They'll come hand in hand with their brothers and sisters (whom they'd been divided from before).  They will be weeping - presumably over their past sins & failures, and their estrangement from God.  They will intentionally seek the LORD.   They'll have to ask the way to Zion (home), because they've been living so far away for so long.  They'll turn their faces toward Home - an expression that indicates their hearts & minds have resolved to accomplish this endeavor.  And finally, they'll make an everlasting covenant with God... on that will never be forgotten.


Thousands of years may have passed since that specific time in Israel's history.  Yet I dare say their "return" experience holds lessons for us even today.  We may not be in physical exile, but we often become distanced from God, spiritually.  The Scriptures tell us that it's God's desire for an intimate relationship with ALL of us.  At those times in our own journeys when we recognize our distance and seek to be restored, we should do so with sincerity of heart (and tears may flow).  We may need to ask about the way back (from spiritual friends & faithful people we trust).  Resolve to do so.  Set your face & heart on Him!  For God will always welcome us back.  Always.  His love (and forgiveness) is everlasting. 

It's never too late...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bread crumbs or Guideposts?

"Set up road markers for yourself, make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went. Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities."
(Jeremiah 31:21)
The famous children's fable, HANSEL & GRETEL, tells the story of two children who wander off in the woods & eventually get lost (eventually meeting a witch with a gingerbread house!).  They were wise enough to know that getting lost might be a possibility.  So to prevent that from happening, they leave a trail of bread crumbs along the pathway into the forest... only to discover later (much to their horror) that the crumbs had been eaten by birds.  The way back home was nowhere to be found.

The prophet Jeremiah lived during the time of exile in Israel.  Foreign superpowers (Assyria & Babylon) came and not only destroyed much of Israel & Judah, but also carried away the best & brightest of the people.  Thus, the vast majority of the nation was forced to live in exile - far away from their homeland.

But God had not forgotten or forsaken his people.  The prophets (like Jeremiah) tell us that part of the reason for the exile was years & years (centuries, actually) of unfaithfulness towards God.  So God used this "super time out" as an opportunity to change the hearts of his people.  But he told them not to fear, for one day they would return home.  In fact, in Jeremiah 31:21, he tells the people to PAY ATTENTION to the path that took them to the exile.  I think this is more than simply inviting them to notice significant landmarks on their physical journey to captivity (so they can eventually find their way back, a la Hansel & Gretel).  I think God was calling them to take a thorough & searching examination of their spiritual journey to captivity.  What were the spiritual landmarks they passed on their way to ruin?  Remember them, says God.  They are important reminders... so you can find your way back (avoid going down that same path in the future!).

Wise advise, isn't it?  We, too, should be paying attention all the time in our spiritual lives.  We need to be keeping track of the guideposts we pass along our journey (both the positive ones & negative ones), so we can remember which paths lead to which destinations.  If we try to do it on our own... to navigate by our own power... it's like throwing bread crumbs down in the forest.  It may seem like a good idea at the time, but it will not last.  We need to pay attention to the signposts God has around us... especially those memorable events in our lives.  What might they be saying to us?  How might God be using them in our lives?

May they be road markers that help lead us down the path of righteousness.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Prayer

"Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually."
(Psalm 105:4)
[NOTE: Normally blog about my reflections on one passage from my devotional reading.  Today my heart was moved to simply pray.]

Lord, there are so many things I seem to be seeking.
Acclaim & recognition.
Success & achievement.
The adrenaline rush of sports (playing & watching).
Beauty (in nature, music, art, etc.).
Peace & joy.
Significance in relationships (especially with my family).

I don't seem to be caught up in desiring security, stability & a future of ease.  I'm not ignorant in these areas, it's just never been much of a priority for me.  And I think that's a good thing.

Part of my challenge as being a pastor is that my "job" is to be about your business, Lord.  So it's easy to equate "doing my job" with "being in relationship" with you.  And, honestly, many times those two do overlap.

But when I read this passage today from Psalm 105, I was reminded of just how important it is.  SEEK THE LORD AND HIS STRENGTH; SEEK HIS PRESENCE CONTINUALLY.  That needs to be my focus.  Not just because I'm a pastor, but because I'm your child.

So help me to seek you.  Remind me of my need for you.  Do not let me be satisfied with anything less.  AMEN.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


"Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ..." 
(2 Peter 1:1)

What's the most valuable thing you have?  Your car?  Antique jewelry?  Property?  Your house?  Stock?

What if the questions was phrased this way: What's of most value to you? 

Maybe then the answer would be something along the line of relationships: spouse, parents, children, friendships?  Possibly health?  Or one's career?  Or faith?

That last item is what the author of 2 Peter would say.  "To those who have received a faith as precious as ours..."  What an understatement!  For so many of us, faith is one of the most precious things we have in life - yet we don't always treat it that way, do we?  If something is truly precious to us, we go out of our way to care for it, protect it, nurture it.  We spend time with it.  It becomes forefront in our hearts & minds.  Unfortunately, that's not always the case with our faith, is it (not even for us pastors!)?  We get around to it when we have the time... or when we remember.  We go to church (most Sundays), but too often that's all.

I was speaking to someone this week who regrets not working harder to give his (now grown-up) children a consistent experience with God and a faith to build their lives on.  "They're good, moral people... they just don't have a spiritual foundation."  When I've met people living in extreme poverty, they recognize their greatest resource is their faith - and their faith blows me away!  That's valuable!

PRAYER: Dear Lord, you are all I need.  You are my strength.  Help me to cherish this precious, precious faith & not take it for granted... or neglect it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Have you been FIRED yet?

"So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel.  The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him." 
(Jeremiah 18:3-4)

Jeremiah 18 is a famous chapter about the Potter and his clay vessel.  God was using this "field trip" to teach Jeremiah about God's reworking of human lives.  Many of us in the church know this "potter & clay" imagery.  We are challenged to yield to God's molding (and remolding) in our lives.

But then there's chapter 19.  Jeremiah's still at the potter's house, so God asks him to pick up one more item: an earthenware jug.  Then God asks Jeremiah to go out to the trash heap... the town garbage dump... and also the place where worshiper's of Ba'al sacrifice their children (ugh!).  In this place of rot, in the stench of refuse & death, God has Jeremiah shatter the jug so people will see what is about to happen to them (yikes!).

What changed between chapters 18 & 19?  Why is God willing to remold & remake... then simply shatter?  Is chapter 18 for "God's people," and chapter 19 for "sinners"?  I doubt it.  God's people ARE sinners (as ALL of us are!).  Is 18 for those "in God's will" and 19 for the "rebels"?  Maybe.  But I think we're more often "rebels" than not.  Could it be as simple as the firing process of ceramics?  Think about it.  Clay can be worked & reworked, over and over again, as many times as the master potter desires.  But once it goes into to the kiln... once it's fired... it's shape is permanent.  It may feel "stronger"... more firm, solid & permanent.  But it's now also capable of being shattered.  The clay, on the other hand, can't be shattered.  It may feel crushed, smashed, dented & disfigured... but it can also be REMADE!  Completely.  Over and over again!

So what would the "firing process" be for us?  LIFE?  No.  Life is all around us.  God doesn't cocoon us away from the sometimes-painful realities of life.  Plus, some of God's best "reworking" in our lives comes out of the painful life lessons we get ourselves into!  Is it turning our backs on God?  Maybe.  But Jesus told parable after parable about God's love for the "lost" and the desire for things lost to become "found."

I think it may have something to do with our willingness to learn & change.  Once fired, a clay pot is "set."  Have we become so "set" in our ways, thoughts, & lifestyles that we cannot (or will not) change... or allow ourselves to be changed?  [NOTE: I know this metaphor is slightly flawed because pieces of clay cannot choose to be fired.  It's up to the potter.  But in real life, I think it's the opposite.]  We choose the kiln.  We choose permanence over pliability.  It seems more "safe."  More permanent.  But I believe that God would be content to a lifetime of reworking, if only we'd let him.  Only at the point of entering eternity would we then be "fired" in the kiln of Jesus Christ (who's GRACE saves, remember!).  But God never forces himself on us.  We have to be willing to let him work.

May we forever be open to God's reworking... stay away from the kiln!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Envy & Selfish ambition

[From October 11, 2011]

"For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind."
(James 3:16)

As an athlete, a healthy sense of ambition and competition is very good.  As a follower of Jesus, however... not so much.  Actually, says the author of James, it's "selfish ambition" and "envy" that leads to trouble for believers.
  • Selfish ambition...  aka "Looking out for No.1!"  This mindset puts ourselves ahead of everyone else.  It only desires "what's best for me," without regard to the impact it has on others.
  • Envy... Wanting what someone else has (or has been given by God).  This isn't just materialistic desires either (envying another's car, home video system, house, gaming console, etc.)... we fall into other cases of envy - including in the ministry.
As a pastor, I know God has gifted me a certain way.  It's who I am.  Who He created me to be.  I am an integral part of the Body of Christ.  But so are you!  You have unique gifts & abilities God has given you, too.  It does neither of us any good to wish (desire, long for, envy!) we had what each other has.  God reminded me of this on my trip a few weeks ago to the Philippines.  I was humbled by the incredible dynamic power present in my fellow pastors.  And for a while, I was having a problem with envy.  But God changed my heart.  I am content with who he created me to be.  What a gift!

Oh, how He loves us!

[From October 2, 2011]

"...And he became their Savior in all their distress.  It was no messenger or angel, but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old."
(Isaiah 63:9)

Early on in the wonderful film "HOOK" (the story of Peter Pan as a grown-up with kids who has forgotten who he once was), Peter (played marvelously by Robin Williams) is a very busy businessman.  So busy, in fact, that he has no time to attend his son's baseball game, even though he promised his son that he would.  Instead, he sends one of his assistants to video the game so he can watch it later.  The look on his son's face, when he's searching for his father in the stands, but instead finds the video-taping assistant, is crushing.

 But that's how it is in the world sometimes, isn't it?  We are busy.  People in positions of power & influence are especially busy.  They have assistants to take care of the things they're not able to get around to, because of greater priorities.

Isaiah 63 speaks of a time when God could have operated like that.  Who's more powerful than The Almighty?  Who has priorities that we can't even begin to comprehend?  If anyone had the right to delegate tasks it would be God.  That's why he's got prophets and angels & other messengers, right?

But God did a remarkable thing.  When we were lost in our sin & faithlessness... when we were mired in the consequences of our (not-so-good) actions... God himself came to save us.  No angels.  No messengers.  No intermediary.  God came.  In his love & pity, he redeemed us.  He lifted us out of the muck & carried us, as a Father or Mother lovingly carries their child.  God did that.

In the words of John Mark McMillian (made famous by The David Crowder Band):  "Oh, how he love us, oh!  Oh, how he loves us.  How he loves us, oh!"  (Amen to that!)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

(Surely you're not talking about NFL football, right?!?!)

"If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth..." 
(Isaiah 58:13-14)

Those of us who grew up going to Sunday School learned that one of the 10 COMMANDMENTS is to "remember the sabbath and keep it holy."  Today, most of us Christians have boiled that down to meaning, "Go to church (at least) once a week."  And while going to church (presumably to worship God) is very important, it may not quite be what was originally intended by this commandment.

Isaiah 58 goes a long way in "fleshing out" what keeping the sabbath holy means (And let me warn all who read this - you may feel challenged like I did!).  Isaiah speaks of how we trample the sabbath: pursuing our own interests, going our own ways, pursuing our own affairs.  Now, if we equate sabbath with church, then we're let off the hook as long as we get to church on Sunday (unless we happen to be checking the football scores on our smart phones during service!).  But if we go back to the idea that sabbath was AN ENTIRE DAY... then we start feeling the pangs of guilt.

Sundays have become days to do all sorts of things - in addition to attending church (if we even do that).  Sports, family outings, meals with friends, take naps, etc.  Have we lost the focus on God?  Or can we honor God by being intentional about acknowledging God and God's place in our families and relationships - especially on Sundays?

I'm not saying that Christians shouldn't watch NFL football on Sundays (heck, I'm a HUGE fan myself!).  But might we be able to find more ways to "take delight in the LORD" - even outside of worship?  Might we even choose to pursue more activities that honor the holiness of the sabbath?  (Yah, I know... I feel it too, my friend... I feel it too.)

But Isaiah tells us that when we do this... when we become intentional about honoring the sabbath, God has promised to make us "ride upon the heights of the earth." I don't exactly know what that means... but it sounds awesome!

Not everything happens for a reason, BUT...

"As it is, we do not see everything... but we do see Jesus..."
(Hebrews 2:8b)

As a pastor, I've had more than one conversation with folks around the notion that "everything happens for a reason."  It's a common expression.  And many people of faith adhere to it.  I think others find it comforting, is some sense.  But I'm not sure I believe it.  Not the "everything" part, at least.

The feeling behind "everything happens for a reason," is the idea that God, the Divine Engineer, is behind everything that happens.  So good or bad... even though we may  not understand it now... we can trust that God knows what He's doing.  Eventually, it'll all work out for us.

But then you've got those "pesky issues"... like natural disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, typhoons, etc.), war, genocide, car/plane/train/motorcycle/boat accidents, etc.  I have a hard time embracing the idea that God causes all these kinds of things to happen for a reason.  Now, we could "prove" that all things do actually happen for a REASON... if we want to get into the "reason" earthquakes occur (plate tectonics), or hurricanes (atmospheric pressure), or genocide (racism), or even some transportation accidents (equipment malfunction, human error, driving while impaired/sleepy, etc.)... but that's not exactly the same thing as intended by that expression in the first place, is it?

Where I take comfort is that I believe God can take ANYTHING in our lives (experiencing disaster, being in an accident, going through a break-up, the death of a loved one, etc.) and bring something GOOD out of it.  This doesn't mean that everything that happens in our lives is good... far from it.  It doesn't mean that God caused everything to happen, either.  But it does mean that God can REDEEM anything we experience.  God can help bring something good out of our pain, struggles, and difficulties.

The Bible is full of such stories.  It may not make it easier to go through at the moment, but it can give us hope.

One more thing.  The book of Hebrews has a line that I think speaks another bit of hope into our discussion.  Though the author is talking about the role of angels & humans and their interactions, he writes this... "As it is, we do not see everything... but we do see Jesus."  We may not see "the reason" behind why things happen in our lives.  One day we may.  Then again, we may never know "why."  But when that is murky, there is one thing that is clear.  Jesus.  We have the Biblical account of who Jesus was in his lifetime... how he related to others... brought healing, grace & compassion to all... and gave himself away to a hurting world in the name of love.  And those of us who claim to be Christ Followers also have the added insight of being in a personal relationship with him.  So in the midst of uncertainty & chaos... while we're going through painful situations & troubling times... we may not be able to see that everything happens for a reason... but we can see Jesus.  He is our hope & our anchor. 

And he is enough.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"If you can't say something nice..."

"Remind them to be subject to rules and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone."
(Titus 3:1-2)

Paul's letters frequently have some "catch-all" sentences near the end of his correspondences.  Simple verses that are chock-full of "nuggets" of wisdom & instruction.  Such is the case in Titus 3.

What stood out as I read it this morning was the 5-word admonition: "SPEAK EVIL OF NO ONE."  We live in a "free country" where people can say what they think & feel.  If you don't like something (or someone), you can speak your mind openly.  But just because we CAN doesn't mean we always SHOULD.

It seems like we've become quite adept at "telling people off," "talking stink" (as we like to say here in Hawaii), or just "dissing" others.  Sometimes it's our elected officials who bear the brunt of our ranting.  Other times it's a professional athlete on our favorite team... or our boss... or an annoying co-worker... or relative... or even our spouse or children.  Heck, even fellow church members sometimes are the object of our scorn.

How sad.  Seriously.

Paul reminds us that's not necessary.  "Speak evil of no one."  No one.  The wisdom of Thumper (from the Disney movie, "Bambi") applies: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  Amen to that.

For OLDER MEN only...

[From Thursday, 9/22/11]

"Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance."
(Titus 2:2)

What do you say to your elders?  To the older people in your life?  How do we encourage & challenge them in their walk with the LORD?  As Paul wrote to Titus (in chapter 2), he had instructions for older men, older women, younger men, younger women, and servants (slaves). 

I was struck by the words to the elder men.  Six things Paul lists.  The first three are not surprising: temperate (moderate in everything, not just alcohol, I'm guessing!), serious (as opposed to frivolous, likely), and prudent (wise in action).  The next three also sound "common" and expected.  But they caused me to ponder a bit more.  "Sound in faith, in love, and in endurance."  

Sound in Faith... Know what you believe.  Know the teachings of Christ (and the words of the prophets).  But then LIVE IT OUT!  It's not enough to simply know it (head knowledge).  Incorporate it into all aspects of your life.

Sound in Love... Love conquers a multitude of evils & sins.  There shouldn't be "grumpy old men" in God's kingdom.  Sure, everyone has bad days now and then... but for the most part, abound in love, grandpas!

Sound in Endurance... Life will be challenging.  It will be hard, at times... and frustrating & disappointing.  Expect it to happen. So then you can ENDURE.  Stick it out.  If you're "sound in faith & love," it will help a lot in being able to endure!

We need faithful & loving elders who persevere.
Are there any older men in your life that you can encourage today?!?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sudden Renewal

"And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because of what God had done for the people; for the thing had come about suddenly."
(2 Chronicles 29:36)

We know what a stereotypical haunted house looks like.  Old.  Boarded-up windows.  Yard unkempt.  Dark.  Dusty.  Cobwebs everywhere.  Very creepy looking.  Now take that image and move it to a church.  Actually, a temple.  The Temple in Jerusalem, to be exact.  That's what King Hezekiah was dealing with.  It had been neglected and abandoned for far too long.  That was all about to change.

The king called the priests & Levites together.  He had them sanctify themselves.  Then they began to make things right.  The cleaned.  They repaired the front doors.  They opened the windows.  They brought out everything that didn't belong and dumped it into the Kidron Valley.  They cleaned the sacred objects that had been misused by other kings.  They restored the Temple so it could be used as it was intended - TO WORSHIP!

Symbolically, I see this needing to happen in many of our lives.  Our bodies are "temples" for the Lord.  Too often we put stuff in them that doesn't belong.  Or we use them in ways that they weren't intended.  Or we neglect its upkeep.  We don't use them how they're intended - to worship God!

But then, from time to time, a call is issued.  Do we hear it?  Can we hear it?  It's a call to renewal.  It may come suddenly.  Be alert!  Be ready!  If we respond with faithfulness... if we respond with humility like Hezekiah & the leaders did, then God can use us to do amazing things.  Our bodies/lives are incredibly holy!  If only we recognized it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The ordeal

"As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the LORD, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."
(Colossians 2:6-7)

Three days ago my son was injured while at football practice.  He caught a pass, eluded one defender, then got hit by the safety.  Once hit, his body spun in the air, and he landed on his back.  He wasn't in any pain... UNTIL he tried to get up.  Then he said he felt pain unlike anything he'd ever felt before.  He couldn't sit up.  So he had to be carried off the field by stretcher, and taken via ambulance to Pali Momi Hospital's Emergency Room.  Xrays were inconclusive  Bloodwork was negative.  It took a CT scan to identify a hairline fracture on the outside tip of his L2 vertebrae.

The prognosis is very good.  6-8 weeks to get the bone to start the re-fusing together process.  Then he can get back onto the swing of athletics, as his body allows.  In a few more months, it should be good as new.  In the meantime, the hard part is to deal with the pain.

Ezra was transferred to Kapiolani Hospital where on day two, his job was to just rest.  He followed orders well yesterday!  Today (Day 3) the order is to start getting up and moving - through the pain.  We'll see how it goes.  It's an important next step in his overall healing process.

A few weeks ago, after a sermon on GENEROSITY, I began to keep a "Gratitude Journal."  It's a simple process: every day write down 5 things that I'm thankful for.  There's a lot that I've been thankful for during this ordeal with Ezra... that his injury wasn't much worse (resulting in structural damage of his spine or impacting his central nervous system), for the doctors/nurses/aids who have been lovingly caring for him, the power of pain medication, the friends who have visited, called & posted encouragement online, good brownies, a warm blanket (this hospital room is cold!), WiFi in the hospital, etc.  The list could go on and on.

My prayer (besides Ezra's full & complete healing) is that through this all, Ezra will also come to rely more on God... AND be able to abound in thanksgiving - no matter what!

Thank you for praying for him, too.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


[From 8/29/11]

"Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." 
(John 17:11b)

UNITY.  it's a word that doesn't appear much in contemporary society, does it?  Oh, maybe in the locker rooms and pre-game prep talks of athletes across the country, but anywhere else?  Not in politics.  Not in this multicultural world.  And, unfortunately, not in religious circles.  Too often we Christians are known more for what we're against than what we're for.  We speak out against other faiths.  We even speak out against ourselves - just look at all the denominations & church splits that have occurred over the ages!  Heck, look at our local churches.  We even distance ourselves from each other there... the one place where we should be united!

Maybe Jesus knew this was a human tendency.  That's why, in John's gospel account of his last days with the disciples, Jesus prayed for their unity.  May they "be one, as we are one," he asked God.  He could have stopped after "may they be one."  But Jesus went one step further... "as we are one."  That's crazy!  Jesus is God.  They are one-in-the-same!  God's presence in "two forms."  Can we, the Church, actually be the same with each other?  We'd have to end jealousies... stop competing (as pastors, congregations, Christians)... do cooperative ministry (no more "mine vs. yours")... seek first God's kingdom, not our own.

Hey, it could happen, right?  In Jesus' name...

Come from and Going to...

[From 8/25/11]

"Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world, and to go to the Father... And during supper, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table..."
(John 13:1-3)

John's version of the Last Supper is a bit different from the other 3 Gospels' account.  In John's story, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples first.  Before dinner.  Servanthood... Love... Devotion... This is what he wants them to learn from him during their final hours together.  It's all done out of a well-spring of love.

Though I love the way Jesus modeled servanthood, that's not what caught my spirit this morning.  Instead, it was a simple phrase: "knowing... that he had come from God and was going to God..." (v.3).  This was one of the foundational statements/truths that enabled Jesus to endure all that was about to transpire (arrest, abuse, trial & death).  He had come from God.  He was part of the Divine Creator.  He was, in the beginning, there with the Father.  He has that intimate connection.  AND... he was going to God.  Though death was looming large, it would not be the final word.  God would win.  They'd be together again, for all eternity.

Of course, we who call ourselves "Christian" know this because we equate Jesus with God.  So, we say, that's how Jesus could be so calm and in control.  He's one in the same!  But another thought crossed my mind as I was reading this: Why can't WE know the same thing?  That we have "come from God" and are "going to God," eventually?

We are not one with the Father like Jesus, of course... but we all have come into this world through the grace and love of God the Creator.  And when this earthly life is over, we will go to God for all eternity.  That should give us a sense of peace in this life - no matter what we may be facing!

How might our daily lives change if we lived with this knowledge... that we have come from God and are going to God?  It seemed to make all the difference in the world to Jesus.  What about us?

The Front Gate

[From 8/22/11]

"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep."
(John 10:1-2)

When I think about scenarios involving "climbing in by another way" than the front entrance, I think of people trying to SNEAK IN to someplace.  Maybe to get in without paying (Amusement park? Sports Stadium? etc.)... or trying to get around ridiculously long entrance lines (festival? concert? fair?).  But when Jesus speaks about it, he's not talking about people wanting to get IN someplace forbidden... he's speaking of people wanting to get in, in order to STEAL what's inside (art thieves, jewelry thieves, bank robbers, etc.).  But more importantly, he's speaking about spiritual leaders (namely, himself!).

Sheep come in and out of the safety of their pen through the front gate.  The shepherd leads them in and out himself.  The sheep should know not to follow anyone who "climbs the fence" and enters by any other way (But then again, sheep aren't known to be the smartest critters on the farm!).

Jesus is warning his followers not to be deceived by "false shepherds."  Don't follow anyone who doesn't come in through the front gate - open, in plain sight, with everyone knowing exactly who s/he is.  Don't be led out by anyone except the Shepherd - for it will not lead to the abundant life promised.

Ultimately, the Shepherd is the one who truly cares for the well-being of the sheep.  He's not trying to use the sheep or sell the sheep or even make a profit off the sheep.  His job is to love, guide and protect the sheep.  It's in their best interests to follow Him.

So why are we so quick to follow other "competing" leaders in our lives?  Whether it's a charismatic leader... a passion in our life... a job/career... an addiction, etc... Anything that puts itself as the #1 priority in our life is ultimately a false shepherd.

Look to the front gate.
Follow the true Shepherd.
Listen only to His voice.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

35 years going strong, and then...

"Hear me, Asa, and all Judah & Benjamin: The LORD is with you, while you are with him.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will abandon you." 
(2 Chronicles 15:2b)

He had so much going for him.  Asa was his name, and he was the King of Judah.  Early in his reign, the prophet Azariah had inspired him to righteousness.  Asa, in turn, inspired the southern nation of Judah to seek God with their whole desire (2 Chron. 15:15).  He even rebuked his mom when she erected an idol for Asherah.  "And there was no more war until the 35th year of Asa" (v.9).

All was going smoothly, until... the first serious threat of war (at least that we know of).  Judah's brothers to the north, Israel, under the leadership of king Baasha, began preparing to attack King Asa & the people of Judah.  Asa, in turn, bribed Ben-hadad, the king of Aram, to break his alliance with the northern tribes, and join in protecting the southern tribes of Judah.  It worked.  Sort of.  Israel left & the war ended.  But God was not happy that Asa never considered going to him in prayer with this situation.  From that point on, Asa (& Judah) were beset by wars (2 Chron. 16:9).

We like to plan, devise, scheme, and prepare.  Especially those of us in positions of leadership, we have to be ready.  But God wants to be at the top of those lists!  Too often, however, we forget to turn to Him first.  WE get caught up in OUR PLANS and miss the most important step - putting God first.  That's when things can start going downhill.  Just ask our friend Asa.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Speaking of The Hokey Pokey...

"You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him...'  For this reason my joy has been fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease."
(John 3:28,30)

Actors, Athletes, Politicians, Clergy... we all have an inherent risk in our professions.  The risk is to fall into the seductive trap of adulation, recognition, self-absorption and arrogance.  Many of us thrive in the spotlight.  That's not necessarily bad, but when our ego grows along with the attention, the danger is we lose a firm grip on humility.

John the Baptist knew this.  He'd garnered a large following with his "dunking ministry" in the Jordan River.  His own disciples get very concerned when they saw the hoards of people following Jesus (and his "dunking ministry!").  John reminded them that he himself never claimed to be the Messiah, so he was totally fine with Jesus getting all the attention.  "He must increase, but I must decrease," John said.

I can't speak for the other aforementioned professions, but I know how challenging it is for us clergy.  It's so easy to crave the attention and adulation of the people in our churches.  But it's so not about us.  Are we pointing people to Jesus?  Because, to borrow a phrase from "The Hokey Pokey," that's what it's all about!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not just on Broadway...

"But be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(Ephesians 5:18b-20)

Music is a big part of my life.  Not that I'm any kind of accomplished musician, but I enjoy playing the guitar from time to time (I'm really just a beginner).  More than that, I love having music in my life.  I keep adding to my various playlists on my iPod, and frequently have it playing in the background.   I also like to sing along with the music (who doesn't, right?).

The apostle Paul would have approved.  In Ephesians 5, he commends us to have a song in our hearts (and on our lips) at all times!  He challenges us to "make melody" in our hearts to God - no matter what is going on in our lives (the good and the bad)!  What a wonderful way to "pray without ceasing."  If prayer is any communication with Go, then singing to the Lord is surely prayer!

So I'll keep singing my way through my days.  I guess it's not just on Broadway where people spontaneously break into song, eh?!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

LIGHT in the darkness

"It is you who light my lamp; the LORD, my God, lights up my darkness."
(Psalm 18:28)

When I was in seminary I bought an oil lamp.  It was a ceramic lamp, made by a woman who loved to dance.  In fact, she called these lamps "Dancing Flame Lamps," for when lit, the flamed danced on the specifically designed mouth of the lamp.  This woman held dance retreats in the mountains, and created these lamps so people could carry their lamps through the woods while moving.  It's still one of my favorite objects in my prayer corner.

As I was reading Psalm 18 this morning, I thought about my lamp again.  The psalmist acknowledges that God alone is the one who "lights my lamp... (and) lights up my darkness."  I love the imagery!  We're all lamps.  Every one of us has a uniquely-shaped vessel, created by the Master Potter, created to carry light through the world.  But we can't light ourselves.  We're just the container.  We need the LIGHT of God to come to us, then we carry it with our lives.

Too many people are living without the flame.  It doesn't matter how sturdy, large, or beautiful our lamps look like... if we don't have it lit, we aren't using it the way it was intended!  May I never cease to look to the source of light to light my lamp & shine in my darkness.

Friday, August 5, 2011

We don't have to be "right"...

"We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor."
(Romans 15:1-2)

A few years ago I heard comedian Jeff Allen say that the best piece of advice his father ever gave him about married life was given on the day of his wedding.  His dad said, "Son, when it comes to your wife, you can either be RIGHT or you can be HAPPY.  You can't be both!"  Jokingly, Jeff said, "I've been happy ever since!"

Actually, it's not that far off.  Too often we choose to make sure that others (especially the ones we love most) know that we're "right."  We also do it as Christians.  Too much, I fear.  But in Romans 15, Paul calls us to put up with those around us.  We don't have to insist on our own ways - even when we know we're right!  Why?  Because, says Paul, the ultimate goal is not "being right," but building up one another in love.

What would it mean for us to put first & foremost the building up of our spouse in love?  Or our children?  Or our co-workers, classmates, neighbors?  Or those who irritate & disagree with us all the time?  Everyone?  Maybe God can use those tiny expressions of "loving grace" on our part to reach people in ways that our "being right" wouldn't.

Go figure.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thinking about THOSE PEOPLE...

Today I was reading through a few chapters of Proverbs, and I came upon a couple of verses that deal with those who... well... aren't living the lives God intends for them... and how we are (or aren't) to respond to them.  I thought I'd post a few for our reflection...

"Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads, or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare."  (Proverbs 22:24-25)

"Do not envy the wicked, nor desire to be with them; for their minds devise violence, and their lips talk of mischief." (Proverbs 24:1-2)

"Do not rejoice when your enemies fall and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the LORD will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them."  (Proverbs 24:17-18)

Some personal observations...
  • The advice we got as children rings true - be very careful of the friends we choose to spend time with...
  • Be content with what we have... don't envy those who seem to "get away with things" in life... even (especially) if they are "prospering"...
  • Have a heart of compassion - even for those who irritate/anger/attack you... for that's what God desires!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The ONE thing that matters

"Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery... or murder... or steal... or covet'; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law."
(Romans 13:8-10)

I'm preparing a new sermon series on simplicity & generosity, and I've been thinking a lot about love.  Richard Foster challenges me to live a "simplified" life by focusing back on what Jesus called the (two) greatest commandment(s): Love God & Love Neighbor.  When we get back to the very basics, life becomes simpler and filled with joy.

Paul seems to echo that in Romans 13.  "Love is the fulfilling of the law," he says.  We have a huge book of stories, laws, history and instruction in The Bible.  But it's really not that complicated.  LOVE GOD.  LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  Everything else will fall into place.

Today, I will try to make a conscious decision to act out of love towards everyone I interact with.  (We'll see how it goes.  How about you?)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Connected (whether we know it or not!)

"For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Amen."
(Romans 11:36)

In the 11th chapter of Romans, Paul addresses the issue of God's love and (eventual) inclusion of his Jewish brothers & sisters.  He cautions the new Gentiles (non-Jew) believers not to get too smug, but rather to be thankful for God's grace in their lives and rejoice!  Paul also asserts that God still has a plan for his fellow Jews - even though they may not have come to believe in Jesus.

Paul ends the chapter (and the discussion) with this: "For from him and through him and to him are all things."  This echoes John 1:1 - 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  All things came into being through him."  Jesus is "the Word" in John 1, and "Him" in Romans 11.

Whether people acknowledge or recognize it, everybody and everything has a relationship with Jesus.  Christ has been part of the creation (and sustenance) of all.  It's just that many choose not to return their part of that relationship.  I believe God longs for all of us to be in a relationship with Him... and works to draw us towards Him in love.  Life takes on greater depth, meaning, and purpose when we respond to Him.  The cool thing about Romans 11:36 is that everyone has that opportunity to be connected!

Friday, July 8, 2011

"If that had been too little..."

"Nathan said to David, 'You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you King over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel & Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.'"
(2 Samuel 12:7-8)

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Passion... Sex... Adultery... Deception... it's been around since the beginning.  (And unfortunately continues still today.)  In one of the great examples of "moral failure" in all of scripture, we encounter King David and his "Bathsheba incident" from 2 Samuel 11-12.  Allow me to remind you of the key components...

Instead of being with the army (as Kings usually were), David chose to stay home this particular spring.  One afternoon he saw a beautiful woman on her rooftop, bathing.  After finding out she was married to one of his soldiers, he brought her to his palace and had sex with her.  Upon discovering that he'd gotten her pregnant, David brought her husband home from war, and tried to get him to sleep with his wife.  The plan didn't work.  After trying a couple of times, David eventually sent him back to the battlefront with instructions (unbeknownst to him) to have him put in the fiercest fighting area, which, of course, got the guy killed.  After an appropriate time of mourning, David sent for Bathsheba and made her his wife.  Then their child was born.

God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David about his sin, which Nathan did dramatically through a wonderful parable/allegory.  He then reminded David of just a FEW of the blessings God had given him: the crown (as king!), safety from harm (especially when the former king, Saul, tried so hard to kill him!), a fine palace, wives (which David had multiple of!), and a united nation of Israel & Judah (for the first time ever!).  Then Nathan adds something that continues to echo in my soul: "AND IF THAT HAD BEEN TOO LITTLE, I WOULD HAVE ADDED AS MUCH MORE," says the Lord (v.8).

Like many men (& women) before (and after) him, David acted impulsively.  Bathsheba's beauty trumped any moral integrity for David.  For whatever reason, David allowed that moment to run rampant over a lifetime of faithfulness.  Sure, nobody's perfect.  But this was a pretty big "indiscretion": adultery, murder, & deception.  And what gets me is that God said, "If you wanted more, just ask me!  I'd have given you more!"  (I don't think God would have given him Bathsheba, but could have found something else to fulfill the void he was feeling in his life.)

Yah, nobody's perfect, that's for sure.  But we, as humans, have to be responsible for our actions.  We all have choices we make every day in life.  Our call is to make choices that will honor God (and each other).  And if we feel we're "missing something" in life, bring it up to the LORD!  We may not always get what we ask for... sometimes God may just need to give us a new perspective on what we think the problem is... but nevertheless, God is there to help see us through.  We have no right to take from others what is not ours.  Everyone needs to learn that lesson, from Kings down to the rest of us common folk.  (Amen to that!)

Friday, July 1, 2011


"When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up in search of David; but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold."
(2 Samuel 5:17)

David is crowned the 2nd King of Israel.  All his fellow Israelites rejoice.  All Israel's enemies seethe.  The Philistines (neighbors to the SW) launch an offensive strike to eliminate the new monarch.  David's 'intel' discovers this plot, and he's able to protect himself accordingly.  What does he do?  2 Samuel 5:17 tells us "he went down to the stronghold."

Maybe this is one of those no-brainer comments that any military expert would say, "Of course!" to.  But it struck me this morning as I was reading.  When threatened, go to your stronghold.  (It's also interesting to note that David was threatened at the height of his accomplishments - a warning to us all!)

I know David's "stronghold" was probably a city of great strength & defense... but it got me thinking about my "stronghold."  Where do I "go" to be most safe?  Church?  Family?  Small group ministry?  How do I surround myself with "protection"?  Scripture reading?  Worship?  Christian fellowship?  Love of family?  I think it's a combination of many of these above things for me.  But am I going to my strongholds in times of need, or simply trying to "go it alone"?  May I learn from David...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Light & City

"You are the light of thew world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid."
(Matthew 5:14)

This is another one of those "Christian sayings" that have become quite recognizable by those of us "in the church."  But we often overlook the power of its (simple) message.  A couple of insights stand out to me as I look at what Jesus says here...
  • "Light of the world"... Just about everything needs light to survive (okay, maybe the naked mole rat can do without it, but not much else!).  Jesus is calling us (as his followers) the LIGHT that the world needs.  We have a purpose & function for OTHERS.  It's not just about us & doing whatever we want that takes care of us.  We are to live for others' benefit.  Are we?
  • "A city built on a hill"... I've been to Edinburgh Castle in Scotland twice.  Once you arrive anywhere in that city, your eyes are drawn to the castle.  Why?  Because it's built on a hill, and can be seen by all!  Everyone knows it's there.  Jesus says that we're like that.  We're a city built on a hill.  We can't be hid.  We can't keep a "low profile" throughout life... minding our own business.  We're meant to be seen by others!  We're meant to be a (positive) example!  That might be a lot of pressure, if we had to do it all ourselves.  But Jesus has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  He can help us be all that He's created us to be.  But again, we're created to be a blessing to OTHERS!  May it be so in my life.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

No Box of Chocolates

"May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ."
(2 Thessalonians 3:5)

"FORREST GUMP" is a great film for a number of reasons.  Tom Hanks is an amazing actor.  It's also a very funny, poignant, and touching movie all at the same time.  The digitized alteration of famous historical events (where Forrest is superimposed int he background) was groundbreaking.  The soundtrack is incredible.  And who can forget "Cajun sha-rimp... boiled sha-rimp... garlic sha-rimp..."?

But I think one of the most compelling aspects of the film is the faithful & unwavering love that Forrest had for Jenny.  You may call him a "simple-minded man," but I think Forrest embodied the kind of love that God has for us: steady, consistent, always available - even if we reject it (repeatedly)!  Jenny's life was pretty messed up (stemming from an abusive childhood by her father)... but Forrest continued to love her, whether she openly returned that love or not.

2 Thessalonians 3:5 understands this kind of love.  It's God's love for us.  It's Christ Jesus' faithfulness towards us.  We just often have a hard time recognizing it.  So Paul tells us (as he told the church in Thessalonia): "May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ."  Indeed!  And that's no "box of chocolates," for we know what we'll get from God! 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What's most important?

"Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 'What do you want me to do for you?'  He said, 'Lord, let me see again.'"
(Luke 18:40-41)

It was no job, but it was how he made his living.  Begging.  By the roadside.  "Alms?!?" he'd cry out to people passing by.  That's all the blind man could do - beg.

So it's interesting that when he finds out that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, he calls out to him with a title not used elsewhere: "Son of David!"  That's the title for the Messiah.  How did this blind man know that?!?  Nevertheless, he does what he does best, and begs!  He asks Jesus for mercy.

Jesus then does something rather interesting.  Though he is the Messiah & has divine knowledge, he asks the blind man, 'What do you want me to do for you?'  Now we might consider that a stupid question (Duh?!  What do you think he wants, Jesus?).  But in reality, the man could have asked for other things.  He could have asked for MONEY (like he always did!)... enough to be able to stop begging.  Enough to be comfortable & set.  Enough to not have to worry about finances any more.  He also could have asked for justice... for retribution against all who had wronged him or taken advantage of him in the past.  He also could have asked to be relocated... taken somewhere where he'd be valued & appreciated.  Maybe even to follow along with Jesus and his entourage.

Instead, this man gets to the very root of his problems: he's blind.  The most important need he has (above all other needs) is the need to see.  "Lord, let me see again."  And Jesus grants his request.

Sometimes I think we get caught up in all the things that, though they may be problems in our lives, are ultimately not THE MAIN PROBLEM.  They're not that important (at least, not as important as the ONE thing that's most important - whatever that may be for each of us).  "What do you want me to do for you," Jesus asks.  This isn't a genie-in-a-bottle-make-three-wishes question.  It's a what's-your-bottom-line-deepest-need question. 

So let's not be too quick to answer.
Take the time to search your soul.
How will you respond to the Savior?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


"Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea.  All who heard them pondered them and said, 'What then will this child become?' For indeed, the hand fo the LORD was with him."
(Luke 1:65-66)

Liz & Zach were a "mature couple."  No kids.  Living out their lives. Then everything changed.  Zach, a priest, was alone in the Temple one day when the angel Gabriel brought word he'd soon become a father!  Zach found it hard to believe (even from an angel), something that got him in a bit of trouble (and rendered speechless for the duration of the impending pregnancy!).  But sure enough, in due time, Liz had a baby boy & they named him John.  That's when Zach started speaking again.  They dedicated John in the Temple when he was 8 days old. 

As word spread about this "unusual" occurrence, people were overcome with fear (of the Lord) and wonder... specifically concerning this child of Zach & Liz's: "What then will this child become?"

That's a great question to ask of ANY child, especially at their dedication/baptism.  This Sunday, we'll be baptizing Natallyie at Aiea UMC.  Natallyie is already 2 years old and has an amazing story.  Her parents, though not as "mature" as Zach & Liz, were definitely not as young as most would-be parents.  They'd been wanting to adopt a child for many years, but it just didn't happen.  Finally in late 2010 they received word that a girl was available in China.  They made arrangements & welcomed little Natallyie into their family on Valentine's Day 2011.  A genuine gift of love!  Natallyie had been abandoned and was living in an orphanage in China most of her young life. 

Back in Hawaii, there were some (expected) adjustment challenges... but mom & dad handled it with much grace & patience.  Now, this Sunday, they'll bring Natallyie before the congregation to be baptized.

"What then will this child become?"  What a great question.  Surrounded by a foundation of love... supported by a church family... given an opportunity to grow up with all the basic necessities every child should have (nutrition, shelter, education, health care, faith & a loving family?)?  How can we not say that the hand of the LORD will be with her?

"What, then, will this child become?"  Only God knows.  But what a joy it will be to be a part of that divine journey with Natallyie and her family!

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's all about...

"For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake."
(2 Corinthians 4:5)

No matter what people say, there's a tendency for those in positions of leadership to begin to crave attention.  It may not be a strong characteristic at first, but over time the pull of fame and/or power becomes greater & greater.  W in the "pastoring profession" are no exception.  Paul knew this, too.  That's why he made it a point to always stay on point - it's not about us, but Jesus.

We pastors know this in our head.  But it's still hard to live out all the time.  Whether we have a "big" or "small" congregation, it's compelling to want to be the one people look to for advice, inspiration, and vision.  And in some ways, that's our job as pastors... BUT (and this is a BIG 'but')... we must be zealous about pointing others to Jesus, not ourselves.  And we need to do it first, not AFTER we draw attention to ourselves.

Because, let's face it... even the best of us pastors will still let others down.  We're human... and sinful, at times... and imperfect (like EVERYONE ELSE!).  But God is not.  Go is gracious, compassionate, and The Almighty!  He's the One we ALL need to be pointing to and proclaiming.

Monday, May 9, 2011

5 points to ponder

"Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love."
(1 Corinthians 16:3-14)

I love when Paul gets to the end of his letters.  Many times he has so much to say (but is short on space/time) so he throws in a ton of one-liners.  Words of wisdom boiled down to their most salient points.  Such is the case at the end of 1 Corinthians.  In verses 13-14 he gives us 5 points of advice to ponder...
  • Keep alert... More than "don't be sluggish/lazy," I think this calls the people to be aware... keep watch... expect things to happen around you (both good and bad!)... be ready!
  • Stand firm in your faith... When challenges come (see above point), lean on the faith you've built in your life.  Don't waver.  Hold fast.  Trust what God has developed in you!
  • Be courageous... Be brave.  Be willing to take risks, if needed (good risks, not careless ones).  Be ready to take on BIG CHALLENGES without fear.
  • Be strong... Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  This is a wonderful trait to put hand in hand with courageousness.
  • Do all in love... Here's the key.  It's easy to neglect love when you're focusing on strength & courage... but God (via Paul) calls us to something higher.  Let love be the foundation on which EVERYTHING is built!
 Yah, I think there's something there for me to learn... what about you?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

It'll catch up with us... trust me.

"But if you do not do this, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out.  Build towns for your little ones, and folds for your flocks; but do what you have promised."
(Numbers 32:23-24)

The 12 tribes of Israel were about to embark on a long military campaign as they settled into the "Promised Land" they believed was given them by God.  All were expected to participate.  Land would be divided equitably afterwards.

The Reubenites & Gadites were cattle ranchers.  They surveyed the land of Gilead as prime cattle-raising country.  The only problem was that Gilead wasn't int he official "Promised Land" area of Canaan they were going to be living.  So they asked Moses if they could remain on this side of the Jordan River in Gilead.  Simple request, right?  Not like you'd think...

Moses, being the "brains of the unit" could immediately see a problem.  Anytime one moves into a new place, one's immediate foreseeable future will be bound up with "settling in."  Moses was afraid they'd be too busy to help the rest of the tribes int eh upcoming battle(s).  So he made a deal: they could take the land of Gilead (and get their flocks & family "comfy"), but they themselves couldn't settle in until AFTER they fought with their brothers in battle.  The tribes of Reuben & Gad wholeheartedly agreed.

Moses then set before them an oath, which they willingly took.  And he said he'd hold them to their word.  Then he concluded with this caveat: "But if you do not do this, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out" (v.23).

How true.  Our sins will find us out.  Maybe not immediately (though it often happens that way)... maybe not in this lifetime (though often it happens this way)... but ultimately, our sins will find us out.  And as Moses implied, all sin is sin against God.  We may think it's only against another, but it's so much more. 

So be forewarned...

But thanks be to God that we have a remedy for our sin... Grace, forgiveness, & reconciliation is available 100% of the time - if we seek it!  Jesus stands ready to forgive us when our sins find us out.  Over, and over, and over, and over...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Their "share"

"Then the LORD said to Aaron, 'You shall have no allotment in their land, nor shall you have any share among them; I am your share and your possession among the Israelites.'"
(Numbers 18:20)

"Everyone gets their fair share!"  When God divided up the land that the Israelites had moved into (aka "The Promised Land"), all the tribe got their fair share.  All, that is, except the tribe of Levi.  The Levites became the priests & "official church staff."  They worked with the sacred objects & worship life of the people. They were spread out throughout the country, and given a place in various cities, but no land ownership like everyone else.  Why?  I'm guessing God wanted them free to "move about the country" (to borrow a slogan from Southwest Airlines). They weren't to become attached to places or things like the rest of the people.  GOD WOULD BE THEIR 'SHARE!'

As a card-carrying member of the modern-day priesthood, this is a challenging passage to me.  I like having my own stuff.  Sure, I live in a church-owned parsonage... but Jody & I also have a house we've bought for our retirement (her parents are living in it right now).  I hear that more and more of us UMC clergy are reluctant to move & participate in our "itinerant system."  Could it be that we're too comfortable?  That we have a hard time trusting that God is our share?

How might my life & ministry change if I truly trusted God for everything?  I know there's a fine line between trust and foolishness (meaning God calls us to be wise & plan accordingly, rather than just expect others to provide for us).  But we clergy seem to want to hold on to the "control" side of the equation.  Maybe God has something even better in store for us... if we'll let him be our share!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

That kind of different

"...But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me wholeheartedly, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it."
(Numbers 14:24)

12 spies.  10 pessimists & only 2 optimists.  They went into the land God had promised them.  They completed their "scouting objective."  They made their majority report: "NO WAY!"  In fact, they stirred up the people to rebel against Moses & tried to return to Egypt!  Only Caleb & Joshua offered a 2nd opinion: "WITH GOD'S HELP, WE SURELY CAN!"

God decided none of the whiners would enter the promised land he had for them.  None.  Only Caleb (and also Joshua, though not mentioned in this passage) would see it come to fruition.  Everyone else in his generation would not.  Why?  "Because he has a different spirit," says God.  Different from the masses.  Different from fear.  Different from mistrust.  Different from being swayed by faithless leaders.  That kind of "different."

I want to be that kind of "different."  How awesome to have God say that about me... about my family... about our church!  To follow God wholeheartedly.  To live in faith, not fear.  To trust the Lord more than I trust myself.  To not listen to those leaders who seem adrift from their spiritual moorings.  That kind of different.

We need more of "that kind of different" people.

Talk vs. Power

"For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power."
(1 Corinthians 4:20)

I'm sure Paul was a bit frustrated.  He had started the church in Corinth.  It began well.  Then somewhere down the line, after he left, it got off track.  The letter he wrote to encourage them (and correct them) is the book of 1 Corinthians.

One of the criticisms he had was some in the church had become quite arrogant.  Paul wanted to move beyond mere talk and get to the power of God at work.  That's what we, as the church, need to be about, says Paul.

Too often we get sidetracked by "talk" within the church.  Whether we're arguing over theology, denominationalism, or structure... the bigger issue should be how is God manifest in our ministry?  What deeds of power & life transformation are present among us?  Ultimately, people won't come to church because we've made the clearest argument.  I take that back.  Maybe people will initially be drawn to a church because of the "talk."  But they'll only stay if God's power is manifest... if lives are changed and God is made known in our midst.

May we be known more for God's power than our words!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


"The tent of meeting, with the camp of the Levites, shall set out in the center of the camps; they shall set out just as they camp, each in position, by their regiments."
(Numbers 2:17)

One could make the case that the first two chapters of the book of Numbers are actually quite boring.  Chapter one lists the census taken by the twelve tribes of Israel - tribe by tribe.  Chapter two lists where each tribe was to set up camp: east, south, west or north.  Oh joy.

But stuck in the middle (literally & figuratively) are the Levites.  They are the one group that was not required to be counted in the census.  They were in charge of the "tabernacle of the covenant" - the holy objects... the worship life of the community.  When Moses set out the camping arrangements, the Levites were put in the middle, along with the Tent of Meeting (aka "worship space").  They even listed them in the middle of the assignments: tribes in the east... followed by tribes in the south... followed by the Levites in the middle... followed by the tribes in the west... followed by the tribes in the north.  How organized!

So what, you say?  Maybe it's nothing more than just a thorough list.  Maybe their place in the middle is solely a move for their best protection.  Maybe.  Then again, maybe there's a deeper truth here.  Maybe worship MUST be the center of our lives?!  Maybe we should do more to "protect" our worship life... guarding our time spent with God and other believers in regular worship... rather than it simply being "something we do when we have the time."

How close to the center is worship to my life?  Good question.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Great Idea... never practiced!

"The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens & tenants."
(Leviticus 25:23)

It was called the Jubliee... and it was unprecedented!  It originated in the concept of Sabbath rest.  We were not made to be machines who work every day without stop.  God knew we needed rest, so He gave us the Sabbath.  One day of rest and rejuvenation.  Our Jewish brothers & sisters have continued that tradition over the centuries (while many of us Christians often fall short of taking the time to rest that we truly need!).

Then God expanded the concept of Sabbath to the LAND.  The land needed to rest, too.  Nutrients needed to be replaced.  Ground that lies fallow for a year yields greater harvests in the future.  So every 7 years, God decrees, the land gets a Sabbath rest, too.  You can eat whatever is produced, but don't "work the land" that 7th year.  This, too, was practiced over the centuries.

But then came the JUBILEE.  After 7 sets of 7 years (49 years total), God declared a GIANT SABBATH REST.  In this 50th year, "You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.  It shall be a jubilee for you; you shall return, every one of you, to your property & everyone to your family" (Lev. 25:10).  What a revolutionary decree!  Everything and everyone is returned.  Families who met hard times and had to sell their home to survive... get their home back!  People who believed going into slavery was their only way out... are freed!  What an amazing plan!  It's all founded on the idea that ultimately, everything belongs to God.  We are merely tenants & care-takers.

Historians tell us, however, that there is NO evidence that this Jubilee year was ever carried out.  Not one record of one!  Amazing.  And sad.  We humans have a hard time letting go of control, power, & ownership, don't we?  Despite the fact that we've been given so much from above, we tighten the grip on our grubby little fists and refuse to let go.  How sad.  It truly was a great idea... never practiced.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


"While GOd has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
(Acts 17:30-31)

Paul is in Athens, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd eager to hear "something new."  They are an extremely religious people, with tons of shrines all over the city.  Paul capitalizes on this spiritual hunger, and tells them of Jesus.  Amidst his teaching, he mentions that God has "overlooked times of human ignorance" in the past, before calling all to repentance.

I love that phrase.  TIMES OF HUMAN IGNORANCE.  How true!  We've all had them, haven't we?  Whether it be ignorance about God, current events, things happening in the lives of those closest to us, etc.  Even John Wesley, the great English pastor, theologian, and the founder of Methodism, commented on how we, as humans, are wrong about some things and ignorant about much!  What a blessing that God can overlook that in our lives.

Nevertheless, He calls us to repentance.  We cannot stay ignorant forever.  Jesus came to make it easy to know God and God's love.  It's a love that demands a response.  Let us not overlook that opportunity!