Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Just one question..."

"Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered, 'If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?'"
(Job 4:2)

The book of JOB is a curious one.  It begins with God vouching for the righteousness of Job, against Satan's (literally "The Accuser's") request to try and "mess with him."  Though a series of divinely-sanctioned calamities, Job loses just about everything but his wife and his life.  Oh yah, and some so-called friends.  For most of the rest of the book, Job and his friends argue about sin, righteousness, God and humanity.  The last chapters of the book have God finally speaking to Job, basically telling him that there are some things he'll just never know about life & God & people.  Period.  Deal with it.

But back to the "friends."  They dispense conventional wisdom.  They say what everyone believed.  They tell Job (over and over) that bad stuff comes to those who sin.  It's the way of the world.  Quit denying it & move on.  But we know that God sees Job as "righteous" from the start!  Anyway, one of the first comments made by one of his friends was a rhetorical question: "Job, will you get offended if I say something to you?"

That's actually a GREAT question!  How open are WE to hearing advice from others?  Granted, we'll need to filter whatever we hear through the lenses of scripture, the Holy Spirit's guidance,  general Christian teaching, and wisdom... but are we open to "constructive criticism" from others (especially when we know it's not a personal attack)?  Sometimes I know that I get defensive, and am less likely to actually HEAR what people are trying to tell me.  That's not wise.  I hope that I will endeavor to at least listen to whatever people have to say... and then allow God to confirm it in my heart if it's something I need to heed.  What about you?

Monday, December 10, 2012


"O LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother, 
My soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD form this time on
And forevermore."
(Psalm 131)

I first stumbled upon this Psalm during midterms at seminary.  In the midst of papers, projects, and stress, this was a breath of fresh air.  It brought much needed perspective:
  • Don't get caught up in things beyond what you're currently called to do.
  • Focus on what's at hand... and that alone.
  • Calm & quiet your soul in the Lord.
  • God should be your hope & strength.
Today begins finals week on many high school and college campuses.  Both of my children (and many others across the country) are going through this.  My prayer for them (and all of us) is Psalm 131.  Keep it all in perspective!

A cry for Justice!

[From Dec. 7, 2012]

"And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day & night?"
(Luke 18:7)

The pastor in me wants to use the parable of the Unjust Judge to encourage people to be consistent in prayer.  (You know the parable I'm talking about, right?  A widow keeps pestering a judge and he finally grants her request because he's sick of her bothering him.)  But the other part of me is a bit bothered by the notion that God will grant whatever we ask if we just are persistent enough.  So I've sort of lived with this conundrum. 

Then I reread this parable today. And suddenly a light dawned on me.  It's not about asking God for whatever we want.  The widow came to the judge because she wanted JUSTICE.  She was somehow being taken advantage of (probably because she was a widow - some of the most vulnerable people in Biblical society).  Even the judge acknowledged it when he said, "... yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out."

God is all about justice.  The Bible is full of admonitions to care for the weak and vulnerable, to treat others with excellence, and to extend compassion.  When we come to God with a call for JUSTICE, God hears!

The Anti-Pastor

[From Dec. 3, 2012]

"For I am now raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for the perishing, or seek the wandering, or heal the maimed, or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hooves."
(Zechariah 11:16)

In pop-culture, the Anti-Christ gets a lot of publicity.  Entire movies are made about him.  Terrifying stories are told.  He's the subject of many defaming statements, etc.  But in reality, he's still yet to grace this earth with his presence (thank God!).

As I was reading Zechariah today, however, I was introduced to another destructive force who IS present and has caused irreparable damage: the Anti-Pastor!  What? Never heard of him either?  Listen to how s/he inflicts harm upon God's people:
  • Doesn't care for the perishing... ie. those outside of the faith who haven't come to know God's amazing grace.
  • Doesn't seek the wandering... ie. those within the faith who have crises of belief (note: the Hebrew word here can also be translated "youth").
  • Doesn't heal the maimed... ie. those who've been hurt and damaged in this life (emotionally, relationally, etc.).
  • Doesn't nourish the healthy... ie. those who remain faithful and true, and still need spiritual undergirding.
  • But devours the flesh of the fat ones... ie. USES those within the faith (for their money, emotionally, etc.), rather than serving/empowering them.
For those of us in the "shepherding business," like myself, this should be a sobering message.  We've been given a crucial role by God - we dare not neglect or abuse our office as pastors.

Help us remain faithful & true, Lord.

Only Speak the Word

[From Nov. 29, 2012]

"But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed."
(Luke 7:7)

People involved in the military know about "the chain of command."  It's a system of accountability & command.  Everyone knows where they fit into the chain of command - who they have authority over and who has authority over them.

A Roman solider came to Jesus asking him to heal his slave.  We don't know if this man was a follower of Jesus, or just had heard about him.  Either way, he asked Jesus to heal his gravely ill servant.  But he didn't feel worthy to have Jesus come to his house.  So he simply asked Jesus to command it to be done.  "Only speak the word," he says, "and let my servant be healed."

Jesus was so impressed with his faith!  He, as a foreigner, didn't grow up with stories of the coming Messiah.  He didn't know God's anointed one would bring healing & new life.  He'd just heard about Jesus and believed.  He knew how the chain of command worked.  People in authority spoke and it was accomplished.

I want to have faith like that.  To believe that God can do anything.  I know it in my head, but want to believe it with every fiber of my being.  Not that God can do anything for my personal gain.  But anything that lies within His will for me and this world.  "Only speak the word, Lord..."

More than the fruit!

[From Nov. 19, 2012]

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.   On either side of the river is the tree of life with its 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."
(Revelation 22:1-2)

I've always been a bit intrigued by the biblical account of heaven in Revelation.  The entire book is one of cryptic symbolism & imagery, so I don't necessarily assume it's a literal representation of what heaven is (will be) like.  Instead, it gives us glimpses of what's most important.

Chapter 22 is the end, literally.  It's both the very last chapter of the entire Bible, and the account of the "New Jerusalem," the final description of God's ultimate reign & kingdom.  I love the water imagery!  "The river of the water of life" flows through the New Jerusalem.  For a people living in the Middle East, this is a HUGE gift!  Water, hydration, irrigation, etc.  It nourishes the Tree of Life, which has 12 kinds of fruit & produces every month.  12 in Revelation is symbolic for completeness.  So there's food for all - all the time!  And (here's my favorite part) "the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."  It's not the fruit that inspires me, but the leaves.  Healing!  Reconciliation!  We've screwed up so many things with our national disputes, prejudices, wars, and exploitations of others.  Finally there's a chance for a new start. 

Healing leaves.  It's more than the fruit of the Tree of Life that's powerful!


[From Nov. 15, 2012]

"Prophesy against the shepherds of Israel... you who have been feeding yourselves!  Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.  You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them."
(Ezekiel 23:2-4)

God will hold leaders accountable for their actions.  Including (especially?!) we leaders in the Church.  In Ezekiel 34, God speaks out against the spiritual leaders of Israel who have let the people down.  They've been more concerned with their own wants & needs than the needs of their people.  God sees.  God knows.  God will hold them accountable.

This should be quite awe-inspiring for us pastors.  God has entrusted to us a group of people (or, in Wesleyan terms, an area of the world to serve).  Are we seeking their welfare?  Are we strengthening, healing, binding up wounds, and bringing back the lost?  If not, shame on us.  We are called to serve, not to be served.

Forgive me, Lord.  Forgive.


[From Nov. 14, 2012]

"And the inhabitants of the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was, is not, and is to come."
(Revelation 17:8b)

In the first chapter of Revelation, God declares, "I am the Alpha and the Omega... who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."  We in the Church like to use that phrase for God: who was, and is, and is to come. But later in Revelation, a variation of that same phrase is used for the devil's agent (aka "The Beast"): It was, is not, and is to come.
That's a brilliant statement!  The embodiment of evil has been around since the beginning... and will continue into the future.  We, as humans, tend to be drawn towards evil, as part of our sinful nature.  But as exciting, enticing, and alluring as evil may be (so seductive at times!), it really is hollow.  It doesn't fulfill.  It's emptiness, heartache, and destruction.  In short, despite what it promises, sin/evil "IS NOT" what it's cracked up to be.

Only God was, is, and is to come.  

No Taunting!

[From Nov. 7, 2012]

"For thus says the LORD God: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within you against the land of Israel, therefore I have stretched out my hand against you..."
(Ezekiel 25:6-7a)

Yesterday was Election Day 2012.  Just about everyone was sick of the negative campaigning leading up to yesterday.  Not just campaigning, but also people expressing their political opinions quite openly.  That in and of itself shouldn't be a problem in this land of freedom & democracy.  But too many added their condemnation, scorn, and utter disdain for anyone who may have left differently from them.

I was reading Ezekiel 25 today.  God was calling the Ammonites to account.  They gloated and rejoiced when their neighbors, Israel & Judah, faced difficulty & ruin.  Now God is holding them responsible for their uncaring attitudes.

When I play tennis, one of my buddies jokingly says (always after his victory, of course), "Now, no taunting!"  It's actually good advice.  We need to treat each other with excellence - friends, family, political opponents, other countries, etc.  Just be excellent.  Period.  Definitely no taunting - because it'll eventually come right back at you!

For the YOUTH!

[From Nov. 5, 2012]

"I said to their children in the wilderness, Do not follow the statues of your parents, nor observe their ordinances, nor defile yourselves with their idols.  I, the LORD, am your God; follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances, and hallow my Sabbaths that they may be a sign between me and you, so that you may know that I the LORD am your God."
(Ezekiel 20:18-20)

Yesterday I started teaching a new group of confirmation students.  11 total.  One group of 6.  Another group of 5.  18 weeks long.  Sunday nights.  90 minutes together each week.  It's a lot of work, but way cool!  I love getting to help young people come to know God and what it means to commit one's life to following Jesus.

Today I was reading Ezekiel 20 where God is fed up with the people of Israel.  So he spoke to the children... to give them a chance to follow God wholeheartedly.  To avoid the pitfalls their parents messed up with.  Unfortunately, it didn't work out well for those kids.  But it doesn't have to be that way all the time.

Dear Lord, I pray that our time in Confirmation will bring ALL of us closer to you, so the young people can follow you with all that they have!  And maybe they can even be a light of hope & inspiration to their parents & us other adults around them!  AMEN.

Restoring our Factory Settings

[From Oct. 24, 2012]

"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."
(Jeremiah 29:11)

This passage has given hope and encouragement to so many over the years.  Confirmation that God knows and cares about us... and has a plan for our lives.  It's beautiful, really.  But it's even MORE POWERFUL when we see the context in which it was written.

Hundreds of years of sin and unfaithfulness has finally caught up to the people of Israel.  God has allowed the superpower nation of Babylon to march into Jerusalem, destroy the temple, trash the city, and take many people away into captivity.  Jeremiah has been fighting a "PR battle," too.  So many false prophets were counseling the king & people to stay and fight: "God will save us!" they predicted.  But Jeremiah knew otherwise.  He told people to surrender and submit.  It was not a popular message, as you might imagine.

Now in captivity, God sends the exiles a message via Jeremiah: build homes in Babylon, plant gardens, get married, have children, etc.  In short: LIFE LIFE TO THE FULLEST!  Don't lament & feel sorry for yourselves.  Make the best of it.  Then God tells them to pray for their new land.  Seek its welfare!  Rather than resentment, offer blessing!  This must have been a shocking message. Pray for and bless the very people who ruined your homeland and took you close to 1,000 miles away into captivity?  Yes.

It is into this "new reality" that God tells the people he has a PLAN for their lives - a plan for their benefit, not their destruction.  God will give them a FUTURE WITH HOPE!  It must have been one of the last things in their mind at that time.   How amazing!

God used the period of Babylonian captivity to bring the people's hearts back to him.  When everything was taken away, all they had left was God.  But that was enough.  They'd forgotten what it meant to trust the LORD with all their heart, soul, and might.  This was like restoring a computer back to the factory default settings.

I believe that God has dreams and plans for each of us.  The question is whether we'll submit & follow... or dig our heels in and fight for what we want?  Its' a plan for our benefit.  To give us a future and a hope.  Sometimes when it seems the darkest (ie. Babylonian captivity!), that's exactly where we need to be.  So don't be resentful and bitter.  Pray blessings on those around you.  You just might be amazed at where it leads.  AMEN.


[From Oct. 23, 2012]

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.  This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes."
(Psalm 118:22-23)

New Testament writers have quoted this verse when speaking of Jesus.  The "builders" (Jewish leaders) rejected Jesus - though God was actually using him to become the Cornerstone of a new creation.  God's kingdom became a reality through Jesus.  But the religious leaders (for the most part) couldn't see it.  And although it led to Jesus' crucifixion, God used that moment to raise him from the dead and bring forgiveness to all.  Therefore, it's "marvelous!"

When Jody and I got married in 1990 (22+ years ago) we chose Psalm 118:23 to be printed on our wedding announcements.  We saw it on a sample card and thought it fit - God had brought us together.  Life together has been wonderful and average.  Easy and difficult.  Joy-filled and challenging.  Life and love is hard work - even for those things that are "the Lord's doing."  But above else, it's "marvelous," precisely because we believe it IS God's doing.  Life and love take hard work.  But it's so worth it.  Thank you, Jody!

Just ask!

[From Oct. 22, 2012]

"If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
(1 John 1:9)

It's part of our frailty.  Part of being human.  We mess up... fall short... disappoint... let others (and ourselves) down.  In short: we sin.  All of us.

But the good news is that God knows that.  And God doesn't expect us to be perfect (because it's not possible!).  So forgiveness from God abounds - if only we'll ask!

The author of 1 John reminds us of this simple truth.  If we confess our sins, God will forgive and cleanse us. Guaranteed.  Why? Because God is faithful and just. 

(PS. You know I'm talking to ME today, right?)

Water Praise

[From October 17, 2012]

"The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.  More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD."
(Psalm 93:3-4)

The Psalmists frequently speak of all creation praising God: Mountains, trees, birds & other animals, etc.  Psalm 93 lifts up WATER'S ability to praise!  Floods, waters & seas "roar" their praise to God.  Which got me thinking about times I've heard the raging waters:
  • Last week on the North Shore when the big waves were pounding!
  • Two weeks ago at Disneyland/California Adventure, when Jody, Emily and I rode Grizzly River Run... six times!!!
  • On the Big Island, viewing Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls after a big rain.
  • Living in Volcano Village in high school, hearing the rain storm pound on our tin roof.
I could keep going.  Sounds of water abound - especially here in the Hawaiian islands.  Psalm 93 reminds me of 2 things: 1) Even the waters praise God - every time I experience the "music of the waters" it should draw me to consider God!  2) As majestic as a roaring sea or big waves or an amazing waterfall actually is, GOD IS EVEN MORE MAJESTIC!  Wow.

A (surprisingly) Controversial Passage

[From Oct. 16, 2012]

"Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life - so that nothing may hinder your prayers."
(1 Peter 3:7)

1 Peter 3 doesn't have a positive following among many in the 21st century.  It's "THE CHAPTER" that tells women to "accept the authority of your husbands."  The infamous "obey clause" in the King James Version.  "Be submissive."

There was a time when women were seen as "property" to be passed from one man (Father) to another (husband).  Of course, most of us have a much different (aka "enlightened") view today.

To some extent, I think 1 Peter 3 gets a bit of a bum rap.  It actually calls for BOTH husbands & wives to sacrifice for one another, just as Jesus sacrificed himself for us.  Sacrificial love should be the core of any marriage.

But what caught my attention today from the controversial passage was the very end of verse 7.  The author clearly states that the effectiveness of a man's prayers relates to the way he treats (cares for, honors, etc.) his wife.  Guys, want God to listen to you?  Value & cherish your wife.  Wow.  That's kinda surprising.

Not just someone to believe in

[From Oct. 15, 2012]

"For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls."
(1 Peter 2:25)

I've had the pleasure of spending a month in England on 2 separate occasions.  Both times in the beautiful LAKE DISTRICT in the Northern part of the country.  Along with amazing mountains, valleys & lakes, there are lots of sheep there.  LOTS!  I'd never really been around sheep until those two months of visits.  It's helped me better understand all of the sheep/shepherd imagery of the Bible. 

Sheep aren't the smartest animals in the pen, so to speak.  They focus on their own needs all the time - roaming to wherever their stomachs take them.  It's easy for them to be separated from the flock and put in danger - if there's no shepherd to watch over them.  England is full of rock walls and wooden fences meant to keep sheep where they need to be.  But nothing beats an active shepherd's presence.

The author of 1 Peter reminds us how similar we are to sheep.  We wander & stray.  We focus on ourselves - and it often gets us into trouble.  But there is hope!  Jesus stands waiting for us.  He's not just "someone to believe in," he's The Shepherd and Guardian of Our Souls.  He will keep us close and safeguard our spirit - no matter what life may bring.  That's priceless!  Why wouldn't we align our lives with him?

(In)valuable Advice

[From Oct. 11, 2012]

"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy."
(James 3:17)

Inside information.  Hot tips.  Great advice.  Wisdom.  Kernels of insight.  We all want these, don't we? We buy books, read blogs, ask around, and sometimes even pay for key info.  It's "worth its weight in gold," so to speak.  So my ears pricked up when I read today about "wisdom from above."

James, however, doesn't give specific tips or info... he simply tells us how to RECOGNIZE WISDOM when we see it: it's pure, peaceable, full of mercy & good fruits, without hypocrisy.  Oh yah, one more thing.  It's "willing to yield."  How many times have I failed on that one?  When I know that "I'm right," and I dig my heels in to make sure others know it too?

Maybe "being right" isn't quite as important as "being in relationship" with someone (like your spouse, your children, co-workers, friends, etc.)?  Maybe it's more about the (Holy?) Spirit by which we live out our lives and how we choose to relate to one another that ultimately counts.  That's wisdom from above.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A 4-fold Challenge

"Ah, soiled, defiled, oppressing city!  It has listened to no voice; it has accepted no correction.  It has not trusted in the LORD; it has not drawn near to God."
(Zephaniah 3:1-2)

Jerusalem: the Holy City. Center of Jewish life.  It's about to face a reckoning, says Zephaniah.  The date is the mid-to-late 6th Century BC.  The people have wandered away from following God wholeheartedly.  Payback is coming.

As chapter 3 begins, Zephaniah scolds them for 4 specific faults:
  1. "It has listened to no voice"... The people have made no attempt to gain wisdom or insight from others...
  2. "It has accepted no correction"... It's one thing to be scolded, or told of your errors.  It's another thing to accept one's punishment and learn from one's actions.  Jerusalem has not.
  3. "It has not trusted in the LORD"... Instead, it has relied on itself and/or others than God for protection & strength.
  4. "It has not drawn near to God"... No time spent together.  No intimacy.  No eagerness to be in God's presence.
What a compelling indictment!  But not just for the city of Jerusalem some 2600 years ago.  How about for us here 7 now?  How open are we to seeking out the wisdom & insight of other "voices" in our lives?  When we mess up and fall into sin, can we take correction?  Is God the source of our trust & security?  And do we make the time to spend with God on a regular basis?  I know that I can't answer affirmatively for all those things all of the time.

PRAYER: "Forgive me, LORD.  Open my heart & life to the wisdom & correction of others.  Help me put my trust in you, ultimately... and give me the desire & discipline to draw near to you regularly.  AMEN."

Sibling Rivalries

[From Sept. 13, 2012]

"The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart, the hostility of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not be hostile towards Ephraim."
(Isaiah 11:13)

Sibling rivalries.  The healthy ones have a deep & abiding love undergirding them.  The toxic ones don't.  Whether it's actual brothers/sisters... or coworkers... or teammates... or country-mates... this is something that abounds.

In the Old Testament, the 12 tribes of Israel split into two district groups: the North (Israel, sometimes also called "Ephraim") and the South (Judah).  The North had the tougher times, as they had to be constantly vigilant against foreign invaders (they were a buffer for Judah in the south).  Plus, Jerusalem was in the South, so the power center resided there.  MAJOR sibling rivalries ensued.  Extreme jealousy and hostility was rampant.  It definitely was not healthy.

Isaiah 11:13 looks to the day when that will end and a healthy relationship replaces it.  I can't help but pray that prayer in so many other places: in this country, as we near another election (have you seen the hateful things posted, tweeted, and said about one another?)... among co-workers who should be "on the same team"... among (wealthy) athletes, grumbling about the salaries of others... and in so many families.  

LORD, heal us!  Restore us!  Renew us!

Remember... and DREAM!

[From Sept. 11, 2012]

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
(Micah 4:3-4)

Today is the day.  11 years ago.  The day that changed the world in so many ways.  Air travel, security, our military, and so much else will never be the same again.  So many died.  So many lives cut short.  So many families impacted.  True heroes emerged.  An entire religion vilified.  The war on terror began in earnest by the US.  11 years ago today.

As I sat at Starbucks this morning reading Facebook & Twitter posts, so many are remembering today.  And that's important.  And then in my devotional reading I came across Micah 4:3-4.  The prophet looked for that time when wars would cease and everyone would sit under their own trees "and no one shall make them afraid."

A world without fear.  Now that's something to dream about & look forward to!  By the grace of God... may it be so... soon.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Leadership Diligence

"We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness."
 (Romans 12:6-8)

Everybody has a purpose.  Each of us has been blessed by God with "gifts" - things we were created to do/use/share.  Some of us figure out what our "gifting" is early in life... while others take a bit longer.

In Romans 12, Paul echoes this.  He lists a few "giftings": prophecy, ministry, teaching, generosity, exhortation, compassion & leadership.  Most of these he connects obvious traits:
  • prophecy --> faith
  • teacher --> teaching
  • giver --> generosity
But when he get to the role of the LEADER, he doesn't mention the gift of "Leadership," like we'd expect.  No, he mentions "diligence."

When I was in college, I got fired from a summer fun director position precisely because I wasn't diligent.  I missed some important details that I hadn't even thought about.  Things fell through the cracks.  I don't think I was lazy.  I just wasn't adequately prepared.  I didn't know what I needed to know.  Diligence is the key.  As a UMC pastor now, I realize I have to work extra hard at diligence.  It doesn't come naturally to me (at least in terms of administration).  But it's a necessity for a leader.  Being comfortable "in front of a group," isn't enough.  Having charisma isn't enough.  Great ideas & vision isn't enough.  Diligence is the key.

Pray for me!  lol

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

JOY: A Continual Feast

"All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast."
(Proverbs 15:15)

I will not presume to know what it's like to be poor.  There are people who come to my church office in need of financial assistance.  Many of them would probably qualify for "poor status."  I've also had the privilege of traveling to the Philippines with Compassion International and have met some very poor people.  I have no doubt that they live hard & difficult lives, in many ways.

But Proverbs 15:15 reminds met hat there's a greater "wealth" available to all - especially the poor... and that's a "cheerful heart."  The author says that a cheerful heart is a continual feast.  I can honestly say that some of the most cheerful & joyful people I've met were the extremely poor in the Philippines.  Those connected to Compassion projects, who had the support of a home church, and knew the blessings that God bestows daily, were radiant in their spirit!  Truly!

I know a lot of people who could use a "continual feast " of joy & cheer - no matter how much money they have.  There's a well-spring available to us... if only our heart will be in the right place. 

Pet Care - it's biblical!

[From July 31, 2012]

"The righteous know the needs of their animals, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel."
(Proverbs 12:10)

Many of us in this world have pets.  Some pets are "workers" (farm animals, hunting dogs, watch/guard/alert pets, etc.).  Many are companions (from fish to birds & beyond!). 

I've mostly been a dog person.  I had "Cholla" (wire-haired terrier) as a kid.  "Puki" (lab & old english sheepdog mix) in high school.  "Koko" (whippet & lab mix) in seminary.  "Kula" (Spitz terrier) when Emily was born.  "Snickerdoodle," aka "Dood" (Pomeranian mom & mutt dad mix) & "Mini" (Mini-Pincher) recently.  But I've also been around some fish & geckos (yes, as pets... I loved feeding the geckos live crickets!).

Much of the time I default to being the "food guy" for the dogs.  I don't mind it at all.  Because of my flexibility with work schedule, I'm often able to make the trips to the vet, too.

Today, while reading Proverbs, I was reminded that God wants us to be good caretakers of our furry & feathered friends.  "The righteous know the needs of their animals."  There's no place for abuse, neglect, or cruelty.  I'd never really thought about it before, but the "Golden Rule" (do unto others as you'd want them to do unto you) also applies to the Animal Kingdom. 

How cool is that?

When the going gets tough...

[From July 17, 2012]

"Then many will fall away, they will betray one another and hate one another."
(Matthew 24:10)

When the going gets tough, the tough... fall apart.  Or so it seems according to Jesus in Matthew 24.  he's speaking to his disciples about some troubling & difficult times ahead.  The beloved & revered temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed.  The believers will be attacked, persecuted and even killed. False prophets will try to lead others astray.  It's going to get ugly.

In the midst of all of this turmoil, Jesus also tells them that "many will fall away, they will betray one another and hate one another."  I got the sense as I was reading this today that Jesus was talking about those within the church... those current believers... those who had claimed Jesus as Lord.  When things get really bad, many will fall apart & turn on their fellow Christians.  Betrayal, hate, and desertion.  Ouch.

One way to read this is to think that you've got to watch your back at all times.  Beware of everyone, even those who are supposed to be allies.  But that's a bit pessimistic for me.  Instead, I see this as a call to be a champion of LOVE, GRACE and MERCY!  Especially when times get rough, overflow with love!  When others do things that anger & hurt you, respond with grace, not hate.  Model the love of Jesus in even the worst of times!

The process

[From July 11, 2012]

"If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and tax collector."
(Matthew 18:17)

"If another member of the church sins against you..."  Jesus knew.  He knew that we hurt and get hurt by each other.  Even in the church.  So Jesus set up a means by which these pains could be addressed & reconciled.  It was a simple process, really... outlined in Matthew 18:15-17:
  1. When someone within the church sins against you... go to them in private & talk it out.  If that doesn't resolve it...
  2. Come back with 1-2 others (from the church), and see if they can't help settle things between you two.  If that doesn't work...
  3. Share the struggle with the larger church and have them intervene in the relationship.  If that still doesn't resolve things...
  4. "Let such a one be to you as a Gentile & tax collector."
Gentiles & Tax Collectors were outside the chruch.  They were also despised by many... but not Jesus.  He went out of his way to spend time with them & invite them into a relationship with Him.

Maybe Jesus is telling us if a brother or sister in the faith won't listen to a multitude of reason, work extra hard to reconcile their faith & call them (back) into the life-changing presence of the Almighty God... whom we ALL need!

(That's a little bit different of a message than "kick out the bums!")


[From July 9, 2012]

"Then Absalom sent for Joab to send him to the King; but Joab would not come to him.  He sent a second time, but Jaob wouldn't come... So Absalom's servants set (Joab's) field on fire."
(2 Samuel 14:29, 30b)

Sometimes, if you're like me, you don't feel like returning phone calls or emails.  Not all, of course, but a select few that you know will be either uncomfortable or frustrating.  So I put them off.  Well, a story in 2 Samuel 14 reminded me of how dangerous that practice can be...

King David's house was falling apart.  Ever since his affair with the married woman Bathsheba, things had gone downhill within his family.  One son, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar.  Tamar's brother, Absalom, then killed Amnon 2 years later in retribution.  Though distraught, David didn't punish Absalom, who fled the country for three years. 

Joab, David's military commander, brokered Absalom's return to Jerusalem, but for two more years David wouldn't see his son.  So Absalom asked Joab to get him in to see the king.  Twice!  Joab didn't respond to Absalom's request.  He simply ignored it.

Bad move.  They lived next to each other.  To get Joab's attention, Absalom set his fields on fire!  Harsh, yes.  But it worked!  Joab came to see him and set up a meeting with his father, the King.  Do I condone field burning?  No.  But it reminded me to be timely in responding to calls, notes and requests. 

How about you?

Jesus loves "Pawn Stars"

[From July 6, 2012]

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid, then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
(Matthew 13:44)

I love watching the show "PAWN STARS" on the History Channel.  It's filmed at Gold & Silver Pawn in Las Vegas, chronicling various customers, negotiations, and purchases at this particular pawn shop.  I love the history that's revealed about the pieces that come in for sale.  Occasionally Rick (the owner) finds something he really wants from a customer.  It's intriguing to see how they negotiate an agreeable price for sale.  Sometimes, however, despite really wanting an item, the price isn't reasonable, so Rick declines buying it.  Other times, it's the seller who refuses Rick's "best price" and walks away without selling.

Jesus told a parable that wouldn't play well on Pawn Stars.  Someone finds something they really want.  But instead of negotiating, s/he simply "sells all" that they have and buys it.  It may not make the best economic sense (could they have got it a bit cheaper, we wonder?), but they got what they wanted.

Of course, Jesus is referring to the Kingdom of God.  He wanted to teach us how we should view it in terms of the priority it has in our life.  It should be THE ONE THING that we must have.  Everything else pales in comparison.  There's no need to "negotiate" for God's Kingdom.  We don't need to worry about holding anything else back for later.  That's all we need.  Period.

Own Pawn Stars, Rick's dad ("The Old Man") loves silver.  He buys it every chance he can.  He knows silver holds its value.  Maybe that's closer to Jesus' parable.  An entire pawn shop of silver might make for a boring TV show... but it sure would make The Old Man happy!  Maybe that's something we could learn from.


[From July 5, 2012]

"Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind & mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see."
(Matthew 12:22)

Sight.  Smell.  Taste.  Touch.  Sound.

If you had to give up one of your five senses, which would it be?  Or maybe the question should be which one wouldn't you want to give up?  They say that when one of our senses are gone, the others work even more efficiently.

Now imagine that you've lost TWO senses: your sight & speech.  You can't see the world around you.  Nor can you communicate with your voice.  Wow.  Imagine having lost both at the same time - so you'd have no way of even learning sign language to communicate!  Maybe you could learn to type in order to express yourself, but that would still be harsh!

Then one day, out of the blue, a man comes along and heals you.  Just like that.  No expensive fees.  No detailed maneuvering.  You're just healed.  You can SEE the world around you... and you can TALK about it!  Would it be overwhelming?  Of course!  Would it be amazing?  Absolutely!  That's what happened to a man in Matthew 12:22.

Everything changes with Jesus.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Harrassed & Helpless

[From July 3, 2012]

"When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
(Matthew 9:36)

Harassed & helpless.  That's what Jesus saw when he looked at the crowds of people who gathered around him.  Harassed & Helpless.  Of course, there wasn't any particular person harassing them, per se.  they were being overwhelmed by life.  By their physical health.  By their economic condition.  By their social standing.  There was an inner turmoil in the lives of so many... and they were helpless to change it.

So despite the fact that Jesus (and the Disciples) was often tired when he met them, he could see through their condition to their heart.  They needed God's peace & healing.  They needed a shepherd to look after them.

We within the church so often forget what it's like to be "without a shepherd."  We take for granted the reservoir of amazing grace & unending love that God bestows upon us daily.  It's available to everyone, but we, as Christians, know we can draw upon that to help get us through.  We also forget that "nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."  That's comforting!  So instead of trying to get people to "come to church," we need to start introducing them to The Great Shepherd.  That will go a long way to helping alleviate their feelings of being harassed & helpless.

You cover my head

[From June 28, 2012]

"O LORD, my Lord, my strong deliverer, you have covered my head in the day of battle."
(Psalm 140:7)

I have just finished watching the 2nd season of the medieval series, "Game of Thrones."  The final episodes had an epic battle.  Land & sea forces.  Flaming arrows.  Flashing swords.  Catapults.  Rocks.  Boiling oil. The whole nine yards.

The sea forces came to shore via smaller row boats.  Once on land, the soldiers flipped their boats & carried it over their heads to protect them from the flying arrows, rocks, oil, etc.  It enabled them to approach the castle and begin their assault.  That "shield" was invaluable to those soldiers.  Individual shields & helmets also helped protect a soldiers' head - a very important component of staying alive in battle!

Psalm 140, attributed to David, was written by a soldier.  David was intimately familiar with the intricacies of battle.  He would have known the  importance of head protection.  And that's why he attributed that component to the LORD.  "You have covered my head in the day of battle."  God doesn't prevent us from having to face "battles" in life.  But He does give us vital protection in the midst of our struggles.  Amen to that!

"Mediums & Wizards"

[From June 26, 2012]

"Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city.  Saul had expelled the mediums and wizards from the land."
(1 Samuel 28:3)

The occult. 
Christianity has been at odds with those who "consult the dead," perform seances, and seek to tap into any form of spirituality that is not God-centered.  "JUST SAY NO!" has been the rallying cry for centuries.  How curious, then, to find a passage in the OT that's steeped in the occult.

1 Samuel 28 tells the story of the time King Saul consulted a medium.  "Oh yah, but Saul was a whackjob by then.  He was spiritually unstable!"  True.  True.  But he had cast out all "mediums and wizards" from Israel ("As it should be!" you're saying to yourself, right?  Right.).  But the prophet Samuel had died.  And try as he might, Saul couldn't hear a word from the LORD - no matter what he tried.

So Saul went "outside the box" in his desperation.  Sure, God wasn't speaking to him because he'd abandoned the Lord.  But that didn't stop  Saul from trying.  He tracked down a medium-in-hiding (who was very reluctant to practice her "craft," for fear of government reprisal!) and convinced her that she wouldn't be punished for  "services rendered."

Now, if we were writing this story, here's where we'd insert some kind of "gotcha" scene. Saul, that God-forsaken king, would get caught in his pathetic attempt to coerce a word from the LORD, and would be soundly scolded for even thinking about the occult as a means of communication with God.

That kind of happened.  But not really.  Saul got busted, all right!  His undercover deception was exposed.  But the medium still did her part!  She brought back a spirit from the grave.  Not just any spirit, though... SHE BROUGHT BACK THE PROPHET SAMUEL HIMSELF!  Samuel's message to Saul was less than encouraging.  Samuel told him that he and his sons would be joining him in the afterlife tomorrow (gulp!).  But it makes me wonder... what are we to make of this story?

As Christians, we believe that Jesus has conquered death.  By his resurrection, life eternal is possible.  We have nothing to fear.  We're told to avoid the occult at all costs.  And rightly so.  We don't want to expose ourselves to any evil influences that we don't have to.  And yet, this story seems to be saying that God is God - even over the occult!  God can use an "evil" method to bring a divine message.  Should we seek out unconventional forms of communication?  Probably not.  But let us remember that God can speak to us in MANY different ways and through many different people.  Let us keep our hearts focused on Him!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Holiness & Honor

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification... that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness & honor, not with lustful passion... that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this manner, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things..."
(1 Thessalonians 4:3-6)

Sexuality is a part of life.  We were created to be sexual beings.  Using our sexuality appropriately, however, has been a challenge since the beginning of time. 

It's not hard to find evidence of our ongoing struggle with our sexuality.  Human trafficking for the "sex industry" is rampant - even in the US.  The media is saturated with details of the Jerry Sandusky trial (former Penn State assistant football coach accused of molesting boys).  Religious leaders in a variety of denominations have faced charges of sexual misconduct.  Not to mention that popular songs, movies, and books revel in illicit affairs and "sexual freedom."  Unfortunately, the aftermath is heavy (both from those participating and those affected by others' sexual choices).

It's not a new phenomenon.  Paul knew this.  He wrote to the church in Thessalonia, encouraging them to "control your own bodies in holiness & honor," without exploiting anyone.  It's possible to do.  It really is.  But it's also really hard.  It takes discipline & resolve.

The real kicker, according to Paul, comes at the end of the passage.  "The Lord is the avenger in all these things."  God has a heart for the exploited & abused.  When no one else could (or would) help, God was there.  And in the end, God will hold us accountable for our actions.

May we surround ourselves by people who will encourage us to live with holiness & honor.

JUST a boy

[From June 17, 2012]

"Saul said to David, 'You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.'"
(1 Samuel 17:33)

"You're just a kid!" 
"You're too young!" 
"You don't have enough experience!"
These are all comments made to youth.  All... the... time!  Since the beginning of time. 
It drives youth crazy.

David knows how it feels.  The youngest of 8 brothers, he was always getting put down by his older siblings.

Like the time his Dad sent him to bring food to his brothers in the army.  The army that was not really being an army... because they were too afraid to fight!  You see, they were up against the Mighty Philistines and the giant, Goliath.  He'd challenged them to send one soldier out to face him.  Winner take all. 

No one volunteered.

No one, that is, until David came.  When King Saul heard his willingness to fight, he said those ill-fated words, "You're just a boy..."  (Ouch.  Like a punch to the gut!)

But wait a minute... Saul also said Goliath has been "a warrior from his youth."  David is a youth.  And a soon-to-be-warrior.  GIVE HIM A CHANCE!  We should give all our youth a chance.  How else can we expect them to learn?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ask Her!

[From June 4, 2012]

"There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah.  his wife was barren, having borne no children.  And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, 'You shall conceive and bear a son...'"
(Judges 13:2-3)

Judges 13-16 is the crazy, drama-laden, NC-17 rated story about Samson.  It definitely has all the makings of an HBO miniseries!  But before the exploits of Samson titillate our senses, we get his birth story.  Or, to be more specific, how his upcoming birth was first communicated to his parents: Manoah and "his wife."

The fact that this was a male-dominated society is clear from the start.  We hear the name & lineage of Samson's dad, Manoah.  But all we know about his mom is that she is Manoah's "wife."  Nevertheless, the angel comes to HER, not him.  The angel tells her she'll give birth to a son.  She is to have a tempered pregnancy (no wine, strong drink or unclean foods!).  When he's born, there's only one stipulation for his life: no hair cuts.  Ever.  His hair will be a sign of his relationship with (and separation for) God.

So "the wife' tells Manoah all that happened..  He, in turn, asks God to send the messenger back one more time.  God does.  Again, the angel comes to "the wife."  She runs to get Manoah, who wants to make sure it's the same guy from the day before. Then he asks the angel how they're to raise their son.  "What is to be the boy's rule of life; what is he to do?"

Now, what caused me to want to journal today is the very next words by the angel.  It's brilliant!  (Especially in a male-dominated society!)  "The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, 'Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her...'"  Then he repeats her pregnancy restrictions.  That's it.  He doesn't answer Manoah's question directly. Why?  Because he's already told "the woman" what to do: no haircuts.  Did Manoah not believe her when she told him that?  Did he think it was too simplistic?  Did he believe his wife not to be a reliable conduit of communication?  We don't know.  But I love the fact that the angel validated his message to her!  She knows.  Ask her.

God has ways to cut through the human biases that we project upon others.  God sees all of us as persons of equal value & worth.  Amen to that!

Avoid stagnant pools

[From June 1, 2012]

"As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God."
(Psalm 42:1-2a)

For a time, I used to love to watch the television show, "MAN VS. WILD."  Bear Ghrylls, former British military extraordinaire & outdoors-man, places himself in all kinds of perilous environments & terrains.... then shows others how to survive in the wild.  It's quite compelling to watch.

One of the basic tenants he teaches is the need for water.  That's not surprising, of course.  But he does warn against the dangers of  stagnant water.  Avoid it at all costs.  Too much bacteria!  Flowing streams are much better (& he even shows us how to filter water, but that's for another day).

In Psalm 42, the author makes a spiritual connection to Bear Ghrylls' practical advice.  His soul longs for the "flowing streams" of God.  No stagnant & stale religion.  His spirit "thirsts for the living God."  I believe we were all created with that "divine thirsting" in our souls.  Too often, however, we settle for stale and stagnant religion... an expression of God that is less than life-changing.  Shame on us.  God is active, alive, and ready to change us - if only we'll let him.  Pray, search the Scriptures, connect in worship, enjoy nature, connect with friends in the faith... all are ways God can "show up" in our lives in real & powerful ways!

Quite an Accomplishment

[From 5/31/12]

"Suddenly they saw two men, Moses & Elijah, talking to Jesus.  They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem."
(Luke 9:30-31)

When Jesus knew it was getting near the end of his mission and ministry (& life!), he started to let his disciples know what was coming (Luke 9:21-22).  But they didn't quite get it.  About a week later, Jesus took Peter, James & John up to a mountain to pray.  While there, Moses & Elijah appeared ("in glory") and were talking with Jesus.  Luke tells us they were "speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem."

Beyond the fact that Jesus was able to talk with two of the great legends of Israel's history, a couple of other things stand out to me.  First, they're talking with Jesus about the very thing eh was trying to tell his disciples about.  But instead of using the words "suffer... reject... kill..." they simply say "departure."  Meaning, death is not the focus (or the end).  It's a departure... from this world to God's Ultimate Kingdom.  Maybe that's why the disciples didn't get it.  They were focused too much on life & death issues.

Second, Luke tells us the "Holy Conference" centered around Jesus' departure in Jerusalem, "which he was about to accomplish."  This is another indication that the focus isn't on Jesus' death.  It doesn't take too much to "get killed."  That's usually done TO someone, not BY someone.  For Jesus to "accomplish" his departure, he'll have to bring everything he's been working for to fruition.  He'll finish his teaching & mission... and once that's accomplished, he'll depart from this world.

Again, it may seem like a game of semantics, but I see it as a HUGE distinction.  Jesus is the master choreographer in his passion scene.  Things aren't arbitrarily being done to him, he's accomplishing what he set out to do.  And it's not a death-wish, either.  It's part of the grand plan for the salvation of the world.

This reminds me that even for us non-Saviors-of-the-world, death is not the end.  There is a world beyond this one that we live on.  My job, then, is to accomplish whatever God calls me to do (right now, that's to be a husband, father, pastor & friend).  Keep focused on what's important in life.

A sober self-assessment

[From May 30, 2012]

"And now, O LORD, what do I wait for?  My hope is in you.  Deliver me from all my transgressions."
(Psalm 39:7-8a)

The Psalms are Israel's prayerbook.  A virtual compendium of all sorts of prayers, pleas and petitions.  "Rescue me from..." "Deliver me out of the hands of..." "Save me from..." are frequent phrases in the Psalms.  We all have people and situations we need God's saving hand from.

And yet, at the heart of Psalm 39, I got a bit of a surprise: "Deliver me from all of MY transgressions."  Same me from myself, God!  Rescue me from my sins.  This is an honest, sober, mature assessment of one's reality.

At times, we are our own worst enemy.  The apostle Paul put it so bluntly in the New Testament when he said, "The things I know I should do, I don't do.  And the very things I know I shouldn't do, I do!  What a wretched man I am!"  We've all been there, haven't we?

When Paul asked (rhetorically) what can rescue him from himself, the answer was ONLY JESUS.  Indeed!  Rescue me, Lord, from my sinfulness.  Erase the darkness I've let into my life.  Fill it with your healing light of grace.  AMEN.

A (Girl Empowering) Dad

[From May 25, 2012]

"Now Zelophehad son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh had no sons, but only daughters; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah."
(Joshua 17:3)

The Hebrew people have moved into the Promised Land and are now settling down into their own respective areas by tribes.  Each tribe gets a portion of the Promised Land.  When it comes to the tribe of MANASSEH, something interesting takes place.  Zelophehad (Manasseh's great, great grandson) had no sons. 

In the Ancient Near East, sons were everything!  Women only held status of they were married and had sons!  But Zelophehad had 5 daughters.  Five assertive daughters.  They asked Joshua for their fair share, since they had no brothers (sons) in the family.  And Joshua agreed!

My daughter, Emily, is now 14 years old.  She just finished her freshman year of high school.  I want to help her grow into a woman of substance.  A woman who can speak for (and stand up for) herself.  A woman who takes responsibility & remains connected to her (extended) family.  A woman who loves God with all her heart, soul, mind & strength.  I want to be the kind of Dad that Zelophehad was... Lord willing!

An Acceptable Time

[From 5/22/12]

"But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.  At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me."
(Psalm 69:13)

The Psalms are full of prayers... some bring praise, others lament.  Many are pleas of help and petition.  Those are the prayers that resonate with people so strongly.  "Help us now, Lord!" We all have prayers like that, don't we?

Psalm 69 is one of those prayers... sort of.  The author is in deep trouble and crying out to God for help.  But instead of asking for it "NOW!" the author recognizes that God will answer "at an acceptable time, in the abundance of your steadfast love."

An acceptable time.  God's "acceptable time," not ours (ours would have been "YESTERDAY!").  God sees the bigger picture and knows things beyond our scope of understanding.  The challenge for us is to TRUST that is the case.  How can we trust that?  Because the Bible is full of story after story of God's "abundant steadfast love."  When we can't see the future, trust God's love for our lives.

As we get ready to send Ezra to college in the fall, wondering if we've "done enough" as his parents to prepare him for life on his own... as we've been praying for God to grab a hold of him and not let go... we (I) have to trust that it will come to fruition "at an acceptable time... in the abundance of God's steadfast love."  AMEN to that!

Do the right thing!

[From May 15, 2012]

"Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them.  They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns."
(Deuteronomy 23:15-16)

I'm always pleasantly surprised when I read the laws from Exodus to Deuteronomy.  Many are so practical & logical.  They're often about doing the right thing and thinking of others (not just yourself).  Today I was reading Deuteronomy & found 2 such items:
  • DEUTERONOMY 22:1-3 says that if we see a neighbor's animal starting to stray, we can't ignore it.  "It's not my problem" doesn't fly with God.  Go get it!  Take it back to its owner.  If you don't know who the owner is, take it home and care for it until the owner is found & claims it.
  • DEUTERONOMY 23:15-16 speaks of runaway slaves.  Even though slaves were considered by many to be like animals (personal property of an "owner"), God doesn't see it that way.  Runaway slaves are permitted to stay with you.  Don't send them back! I can only imagine God knew that if they ran away, they probably were in some unhealthy relationship.  God allows for new life & new starts.
As followers of Jesus, "it's none of my business" should have no place in our speech.  Doing the right thing is everyone's business.

Speaking in Tongues & GENERAL CONFERENCE 2012

[From 5/7/12]

"When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.  Let all things be done for building up."
(1 Corinthians 14:26)

Speaking in tongues is not too prevalent in the UMC.  I'm sure it may happen, but it's not very common.  That's not the case in more charismatic churches.  The 14th chapter of 1st Corinthians deals almost exclusively with this topic.  Some might deem it irrelevant for those churches who don't practice this spiritual gift.  I disagree.

The main point Paul seems to be making in chapter 14 is that speaking in tongues must be accompanied by the interpretation of tongues.  It does no good, Paul says, to do something that people don't understand.  God has given us spiritual gifts for the building up of the body.  Tongues without interpretation benefits no one.  It's better to keep silent, if no one can interpret.

Even though we may not speak in tongues, the wisdom can still apply to us in the UMC.  Whatever we say and do should build one another up.  Period.  Anything else is not helpful.  It's better to remain silent, if we can't encourage each other. Sometime to think about, post General Conference 2012 (the every-four-years global gathering of Methodist members & leaders).


[from May 4, 2012]

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the LORD in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body & blood of the LORD.  Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup."
(1 Corinthians 11:27-28)

There's a common assumption among many today (both within and outside the church), that God expects us to "get our act together" before coming to Church (or to Him).  "I don't want to be a hypocrite," people say.  And then some within the church choose not to receive Holy Communion for the same reason.  They frequently cite 1 Cor. 11:27-32 and say there's sin in their life, so they 'll not "eat and drink in an unworthy manner."  And it sounds so humble.

But there's a section BEFORE those verses in the same chapter that deals with Communion, too.  No one seems to quote these verses.  Specifically, 1 Cor. 11:17-26 (okay, 23-26 gets quoted a lot - it's the "words of institution" part of the Communion liturgy).  The "unworthy manner" of taking Communion for some in the Corinthian Church dealt with excess!  They were coming to church and using communion as their dinner - eating to get full and drinking to get drunk!!  "What? Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?" Paul protests!  He chides the church in Corinth to think of others before themselves.  There should be enough bread & wine for everyone!  Don't be so callous.

Which gets me back to the original question of this post.  Does God expect us to get our act together before coming to church (or taking Communion)?  OF COURSE NOT!  That's why he sent Jesus - precisely because we don't have our act together.

So come to the church, everyone!  Come to the Table of the Lord!  Everyone is welcome.
You won't be judged, but loved!
(Just be sure to eat at home first, okay!?!)

Don't hit!

[From 4/30/12]

"The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the 1st month, and the people stayed in Kadesh.  Miriam died there, and was buried there."
(Numbers 20:1)

In Numbers 20, Moses' sister, Miriam, dies.  One verse is all she's given.  Considering the impact she had on her brother's life (especially the early years!), it's kind of a shame.  But regardless of what the narrator says, her death had to have made a BIG impact on Moses.

The very next verse (2ff.) starts another incident of the Israelites' grumbling against God (and Moses).  It's a significant incident, as it eventually costs Moses a chance to enter the Promised Land.  The people want water.  There is none.  God instructs Mo & Aaron to call the people, then command a rock to yield water.  Instead, Moses hits the rock with his all-powerful staff (of 10 Plagues fame!).  This may seem like a minor difference (hitting vs. commanding).  But what's troubling is what he says before he hits the rock: "Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?"

I think the "we" is he and Aaron... not them and God.  Moses was starting to believe his own press clippings and forgot it was GOD ALONE who held all the power.

But we can forgive him, can't we?  He'd just lost his sister.  He had no time to grieve when the people started grumbling about Moses taking them into the desert to die.  He'd just buried his sister, and the people (always leaning to the dramatic) complain of dying of thirst.  Dying? Really?  Taking time to grieve is important.  But we also need to remember that God is the one who has all the power & glory.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A leadership spirit

"So the LORD said to Moses, 'Gather for me 70 of the elders of Israel... and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself.'"
(Numbers 11:16a, 17)

Moses was feeling overwhelmed by the demands of leader the people of Israel.  So God told him to pick 70 elders among the people to help him.  Then God did something very interesting - he took a portion of the "spirit" that was "on" Moses, and gave it to the 70.

As a leader, I found this fascinating for a couple of reasons:
  1. Our power comes from outside of us... God didn't tell Moses to train the seventy from his "vast experience as an outstanding leader."  No, he took a portion of the leadership spirit that HE had given Moses, and shared it with the new recruits.  So whenever any of us leaders start getting impressed by our own credentials (and press clippings), pay heed.  It's from God.  Not us.
  2. If we want effective & powerful leaders, we need to be praying for God's spirit to fall.  I have quite a few leaders in my church, both men & women.  I don't know if I've ever prayed for God's spirit to fall upon them.  Shame on me.  Time to start!


[From April 25, 2012]

"The Levites shall be mine... for they are unreservedly given to me from among the Israelites; I have taken them for myself, in place of all that open the womb, the firstborn of all the Israelites."
(Numbers 8:14b, 16)

Every time I read this passage, I'm struck by the fact that God chose the priests (Levites) as compensation for the "tithe" of the firstborn.  Because God saved the firstborn Israelites during the 10th plague in Egypt, all future firstborn children were to be dedicated to God.  But God redeemed that claim through the priests.

Being a "priest" myself, this is a powerful verse.  I belong to God.  I have been claimed by him as his own.  God can do with me what he desires.  Because of me (and many other "priests" in the world), others are free to use their lives as they see fit (hopefully, they'll seek the Lord's guidance, too!).

It also causes me to pause.  I'm accountable to God.  I know we all are, technically, but as a "priest," I'm even more so.  May I live accordingly.  Thank you for claiming me as your own, God.  Help me to stay faithful to that claim!  AMEN.


[From April 19, 2012]

"Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness sake, O LORD!"
(Psalm 25:7)

As an adult, I try to be honest with God about my life.  When I fall short of His will for me - when I act in ways that do not honor him - when I sin... I ask for his forgiveness & cleansing.  Many of us seek to live this way.

Psalm 25 talks about God not remembering the "sins of my youth or my transgressions."  Which got me thinking... was I as "spiritually aware" as a child & youth as I am now?  Was I quick to acknowledge & confess my sin?  Probably not.  I know that once I was baptized all my prior sin was washed clean... but still, can I say without a doubt that I've asked God to forgive & cleanse me from ALL of the sins of my youth?  I'm not sure.

I love how the psalmist ends verse 7: "Don't remember the sins of my youth, God.  Remember me!"  Remember the relationship not the sinful actions.

PRAYER: Oh Go, forgive & cleanse me of all my past (and present!) unrighteousness.  Create in me a clean heart!  Fill those dark places with your Spirit and Light.  Thank you for remembering your relationship with me over the years.  I love you, Lord!  I love you!

It happens to even the best of us...

[From April 12, 2012]

"When Silas & Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus.  When they opposed & reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, 'Your blood be on your own heads!  I am innocent.  From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'"
(Acts 18:5-6)

Paul was such a passionate guy!  He grew up as a Pharisee... a strict adherent to the laws of God.  He even carried out his passion so far as to persecute the early Christians, whom he felt were distorting true Judaism.  Then God got a hold of him and that passion got redirected.  He became zealous for the LORD & the teachings of Jesus!  He took every chance he could to visit the synagogues and speak to the leading Jews about how Jesus was the Messiah.  Some believed.  Many didn't.  In fact, many took great offense at him.  But Paul kept at it.  At least until he got to Corinth.  That's when Paul "had enough."  After being "opposed & reviled," he turned his attention to the Gentiles (non-Jews).  He would have nothing more to do with his own people.

But 12 verses later, Paul reaches Ephesus.  And what's the first thing that he does?  He goes to the synagogue and has "a discussion with the Jews."  It actually goes well.  They ask him to come back again, but he's on his way.  "I will return if God wills," he tells them.

This impressed a couple of things on my heart as I read them today... first, ministry is frustrating at times!  We say things in the heat of the moment that we may not mean completely.  I'm sure Paul was tired of his own people rejecting his message.  So even though he "shook the dust off" in Corinth, he found himself down to the synagogues once again in Ephesus.  God has wired us with passion and a mission.

Second, there's always someone else hungry for an experience of God.  Even if most of his Jewish brothers and sisters rejected his message, there were folks in Ephesus who connected with him.  This encourages me to never give up!  We can't reach all the people all the time... but there are folks who want (and NEED!) to hear a message of hope!  So hang in there, all you fellow laborers in the vineyard... what you're going through happens to even the best of us!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Closer than you know!

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

The city of Athens was famous for their houses of worship.  You name the "religious flavor of the month," and you could probably find it there!  In fact, as Paul was walking around the city, he noticed an altar with the description: "To an unknown god."  The people made sure they had all their bases covered.  Surely it was possible that there was some great & powerful god they had no knowledge of!

In a brilliant stroke of street preaching, Paul told the people that he knows the identity of the aforementioned "unknown god."  What follows is an appeal for them to seek after the LORD!

What I especially like about this (besides the cultural creativity used by Paul!) is his statement that God has created us to seek Him!  "To search for God and perhaps grope for Him and find Him - though indeed He is not far from each of us."  We're wired to seek God.  Many people also "grope" for God - desperate for something they can't quite identify.  But God doesn't play "hard to get."  God is near to us all.  Probably much closer than we know!  I love that.  Praise God for meeting us where we are.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


"But Peter said to him, 'May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money!  You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God...'"
(Acts 8:20-21)

Simon was a traveling magician.  Evidently, a pretty good one, too.  In Samaria, he'd wowed the people for some time.  He proclaimed to be someone great, and the people believed him.  Then along came Philip with the power of the Holy Spirit, and even Simon was impressed by what God could do through him!

Peter & John came to Samaria after a while and began baptizing people with the Holy Spirit.  Simon, who'd been following Philip constantly offered to pay Peter & John money so he, too, could empower people with the Holy Spirit.  As you might imagine, this didn't go over well, and Simon was severely chastised.  God's gifts can't be bought, they told him.

We modern Christians hear this story and nod approvingly.  "Good for Simon... he got what was coming to him.  The nerve!"  And yet, are we as innocent as we think?  How often do we make a financial donation/gift to a church or ministry or spiritual leader and inwardly expect God's return blessing?  Do we believe belonging to a particular church or attending a particular school will make us more spiritual?  God's gifts can't be bought.  If our heart is in the right place, then our resources can be used for God with no strings attached.  God's gifts come when God knows we need them most.  And that's the way it should be.

Drawing Near the Darkness

"Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was."
(Exodus 20:21)

As God prepared the people of Israel to receive the 10 Commandments, he called them to come out of their tents and stand before Mount Sinai.  Then God's presence came upon the mountain in the form of darkness, clouds, thunder & lightning.  It was quite terrifying to the people.  After god gave the Commandments, verse 21 appears, saying that while the people stood at a distance from God, "Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was."

As a pastor, this verse resonated with me today. Life is filled with "thick darkness" at times.  It's everywhere, if you take the time to look.  Many get overwhelmed by the darkness in their lives and the world around them.  It's human nature to stand back at a distance. But Moses, as the spiritual leader, was called to "draw near" to the darkness.  Not to run away, but to approach it.  Enter it.  Embrace it.  Why?  Because God was present IN THE DARKNESS.

That's so true.  In the darkest moments of our lives, God can be found there - if only we'll "draw near" with expectant hearts.  May I, as a pastor, be bold enough to do so.  AMEN.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In Awe

"But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house, I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you."
(Psalm 5:7)

The author of Psalm 5 asks God to hear his prayer.  He remarks how God hates evil, wickedness, liars, braggarts, and the bloodthirsty.  Then he contrasts all those with himself.  "I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house... in awe of you."  He comes into God's presence, not on his own righteousness and merit, but instead out of "the abundance of (God's) steadfast love."

WORSHIP.  I remember hearing that the word originally meant WORTH-ship... testifying that God is WORTH our adoration.  The Psalmist knows that.  He speaks of bowing down in awe of God.

The classic cathedrals of Europe do a wonderful job of evoking awe & reverence.  They are so huge, so majestic, so inspiring, one can't help but feel in awe of the Almighty.  Today's churches & worship spaces tend to lean towards intimacy rather than awe.  We gravitate towards the "friendship and love" aspect of God more than the "reverence and awe" aspect.  But are we missing something?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


"Pharaoh said to his servants, 'Can we find anyone else like this - one in whom is the spirit of God?'"
(Genesis 41:38)

Joseph had a rough life - at least during "the middle years."  As a kid, he was pampered.  Daddy's favorite!  Given the run of the house.  It's kind of what turned his 10 older brothers against him (that and his self-righteous attitude!).  Then he was sold into slavery (by those bros), wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, and forgotten after helping others.  But through it all, God was with him.

So when time came for Joseph to interpret the Pharaoh's two dreams (which he did!), God's presence/favor with him was obvious.  And THAT is what touched Pharaoh's heart.  "Can we find anyone else like this - one in whom is the Spirit of God?" he asked those around him.  What a tremendous testimony!  As a father, I'd love for people to say that about my two children.  If, at various stages in one's life, people would say, "Ezra/Emily is such a neat person - they walk so closely with God!" I'd be ecstatic!  That is a life well-lived!!

Joseph didn't have it easy, by any means.  It was a life of ups and downs (and some BIG downs, too!).  But God was with him every step of the way.  That, my friends, is priceless.

Monday, March 12, 2012


"And (Jesus) sighed deeply in his spirit..."
(Mark 8:12)

Those darn Pharisees!  Those religious leaders!  They have "issues" with Jesus and constantly plague him throughout the Gospels.  Much of the time their interactions with Jesus are attempts to test, trick or trap him.  Deep down they're not genuinely interested in knowledge, wisdom, or spiritual insight.

Such is the case in Mark 8.  They come and start arguing with Jesus straight away.  They ask him "for a sign form heaven, to test him."  Jesus, who has all the patience int he world (at least when there's a legitimate inquiry), is not going to play their games.  Mark tells u that he "sighed deeply in his spirit."

Wow.  Subtle.  Powerful.  Telling.

I wonder how often that happens with me and Jesus?  How many times, throughout the course of my lifetime, has Jesus watched me do something (or say something or think something) and then just sighed deeply in his spirit?  "Will Jim ever learn?  Why does he keep doing that?  If only he knew..."  How often do I (knowingly or unknowingly) seek to test, trick or trap God?  (Sigh.)

And yet, I know that God loves me nonetheless.  God wants the best for me - and seeks to guide me along those lines... but His love remains steadfast (despite his sighs!).  And that's GOOD NEWS!

Anger? From Jesus?!?

[From 3/7/12]

"He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart..."
(Mark 3:5a)

What got Jesus angry?  Unbelief?  Doubt?  Sin?  Nope.  He could deal with all those things.  He had boundless patience & grace for those struggling with that.  What really seemed to tick him off was lack of compassion (aka "hardness of heart").

There's a story in Mark 3 where Jesus was at a synagogue on the sabbath.  He saw a man who had a withered hand.  Jesus knew some were waiting for him to do something "improper" - like healing on the Sabbath (which was considered "work," so it was forbidden on the Sabbath).  So before he did anything, Jesus asked a simple question: "Is it lawful to do good or do harm on the Sabbath?"  Despite all of the Sabbath regulations & restrictions, the bottom line was to DO GOOD!  But his detractors couldn't admit this and still hope to entrap Jesus.  So they said nothing.

What struck Jesus was their lack of compassion for the man injured.  They were more concerned about their destructive plans for Jesus than about this man's personal pain.  Their hearts were hard.

Sometimes we get caught up in our own "stuff" (plans, agendas, daily routines, etc.) that we miss the needs of a hurting world around us.  God forbid that we allow our hearts to become hardened beyond softening!  God forbid.

Friday, March 2, 2012


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

The Scripture Journaling schedule that I follow calls for us to get through the Book of Revelation in a mere 5 days of reading.  It's quite an interesting read to go through it all this quickly.  First of all, it can be overwhelming - so many images & symbols!  Most scholars don't even know what they all mean or stand for, since it was intentionally written to be cryptic (to avoid the "powers that be" from being able to decipher it!).

What I took away from today's reading can be summed up in one word: ENDURANCE!  There is a lot going on in this world... both things we can see and other spiritual realities we can't.  Evil exists.  But we, as followers of Jesus, are called to resist evil and be faithful.  The Scriptures give us a pathway to follow.  We're not called to be perfect (everyone sins), but rather faithful (including seeking & receiving forgiveness).  It won't be easy.  In fact, it can be downright overwhelming at times.

BUT FEAR NOT!  God is with us!  Fight the good fight!  Keep the Faith!  Endure!  Endure!  Endure!!!

(Amen to that!)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


"To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever.  AMEN."
(Revelation 1:5b-6)

I was all set to read the first 4 chapters of Revelation today for my Scripture Journaling (morning devotions), and I got stopped a mere 6 verses into the first chapter. It's one of those "Christianese phrases," the likes of which we've heard countless times before... but today I actually paused to consider its implications.

"To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood..." (v.5b)

It wasn't the "God loves us" part that got me.  It was the next part: "(who) freed us from our sins by his blood."  We usually think of having been simply (or maybe not so simply) forgiven of our sins.  But the author of Revelation talks about being FREED from our sins.  Wow!

The sins of our past... left unforgiven... have deep ties into our souls.  They gnaw at us.  Remind us of our failure.  Pummel our feelings of self-worth.  Even if we've made peace with those we have offended, a dark trail remains.  But  as Christians, we believe all of that can be forgiven.  All of it!  By Jesus' death & resurrection ("blood"), not only are we forgiven, but we're set FREE from the hold sin has on us.  (And who can't use a little more freedom like that?!)

That four letter word...

[FROM 2/26/12]

"Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."
(1 John 3:18)

"I LOVE YOU!" It's everywhere.  In movies... in books... on cards... in songs... in gifts... in letters & notes... on our lips.  We have countless ways to SAY that we love someone.

The author of 1st John acknowledges this fact.  But s/he takes it a step further.  Love is most powerful when expressed "IN TRUTH AND ACTION."  The action part is easy to identify - it's what we DO, not just what we say.  It's the time we spend with others.  It's the acts of service and caring - especially to those in need.  It's how we use our resources.  That's love in action.

Love in truth - that's a bit trickier, isn't it?  As I reflect on it this morning, I'm drawn back to our words.  Sometimes we say things because it seems like the right thing to say... or we know someone wants to hear it... or we think it'll benefit us.  But these don't always equate with truth, do they? 

What would it mean to speak the truth in love to each other?