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.