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.