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.