Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In Heavenly places, no less!

[From August 9, 2013]

"...So that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
(Ephesians 3:10)

There's a wonderful question asked among Christian circles: "If your church disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice?"  Of course, this is referring to those outside of your faith community, and usually calls us to look at the impact our churches are having on the community around us.

But today, as I was reading Ephesians 3, I got a different perspective on this question.  Paul reminds us the local church is called to reflect "the wisdom of God in its rich variety."  Ok.  I can handle that.  But who whom are we supposed to reflect this?  Our communities?  Our nation?  Our leaders?  Paul lists a different entity: "rulers & authorities int he heavenly places."  Not just any rulers & authorities... spiritual ones!  This is a cosmic call... a supernatural challenge... an invitation to confront evil (in all its manifestations) through the work of the church.

Wow.  That's big.  Daunting, even.  But with Christ Jesus, all things are possible.  May we reflect the wisdom of God in all we do!

Let's hear it for the moms!

[From August 6, 2013]

"Greet Rufus, chosen in the LORD; and greet his mother - a mother to me also."
(Romans 16:13)

Moms rock!  I've been blessed with two mothers: my birth mother (Sylvia), who died when I was 6... and my second mother (Pat), who's been in my life just about ever since.  So much of who I am is because of their influence.

But other women have been like mothers to me, too, over the years.  Usually they were moms of friends of mine, whom I hung out with quite a bit... or moms of friends at church who were involved in my life.  Women who loved me, cared about what happened to me, and wanted to help me become the person God intended me to be.

I was reminded of these wonderful women today when I read Romans 16.  Paul comments on Rufus and his mom, who has been "a mother to me also."  These women in my life, too numerous to mention here, loved me in Arizona, Hawaii, Oahu, and even New Jersey.  I am so blessed because of them... and pray God's best in their lives today!

Priorities (out of whack!)

[From July 23, 2013]

"Solomon was building his own house 13 years, and he finished his entire house."
(1 Kings 7:1)

David had a dream.  His dream was to finally build God a house of his own.  No more "tent of meeting."  No more traveling tabernacle.  No more make-shift abode for the Creator of the Universe.  He felt bad that his house was much nicer than God's house.  But God didn't want David to build him a house.  So David passed all his plans on to his son, Solomon.

Solomon carried out his father's desires and built God a house (aka "The Temple in Jerusalem").  It took him 7 years.  In the Bible, seven is the number of perfection.  How appropriate.  1 Kings 6:38 says that it took 7 years to do just that.

But the very next verse is quite shocking to me.  1 Kings 7:1 says that Solomon then got to work on his house (I'm not sure why he couldn't live in the palace his father David lived in?!?)..  What shocked me was the fact it took Solomon 13 years to build his own house.  That's almost twice as long as the temple (was it twice as big?).  Sure, he had a thousand wives & concubines, so he'd need a lot of bedrooms (and bathrooms!)... but still, those priorities seem a bit out of whack to me. 

Never should we spend twice as much time on OUR endeavors as we do on God's endeavors.  Maybe that's one of the reasons the kingdom split after Solomon's reign!?!

Set Apart

[From July 22, 2013]

"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised before hand through his prophets in the holy scriptures."
(Romans 1:1-2)

"Tell us about your 'call.'"  That's the question every Board of Ordained Ministry asks every potential United Methodist Church minister.  "How did God call you into ministry?"  We must be able to articulate that call story as pastors.  It's not about "doing a good job" or "having the right skill set" to be a pastor.  Those are important, sure, but not the essential component of the equation.  What's crucial is whether (and how) God has called one into ministry.

One of the biggest issues I struggled with when I was discerning my call from God was whether it meant I had to radically change or could "still be me?"  I didn't want to have to conform to some preconceived notion of what a minister had to be like.  I loved who God had created me to be, and dreaded having to give up part of my personality just to be a pastor. 

Of course, I've made my peace with that - and have (hopefully) navigated that transition well - becoming the pastor God has made me to be without compromising my personality.  But Paul reminded me today (Romans 1:1) that I am still "set apart for the gospel."  I can be myself, sure.  But I also must always recognize I've been given a specific calling & everything I do should be about the Gospel.  (I'm just stoked I can do it with my personality intact!)

The King's Friend

[From July 17, 2013]

"Jonathan, David's uncle, was a counselor, being a man of understanding & a scribe; Jehiel son of Hachmoni attended the King's sons.  Ahitophel was the King's counselor, and Hushai the Archite was the King's friend... Joab was commander of the King's army."
(1 Chronicles 27:32-34)

I love these few verses.  Much of 1 Chronicles is made up of lists of people: priests, Levites, gatekeepers, commanders, etc.  But here at the end of chapter 27, we get the name of 7 people. Four are counselors (Jonathan, Ahitophel, Jehoiada & Abiathar).  One is a general (Joab).  One handles all oft he King's sons (Jehiel).  And then there's HUSHAI THE ARCHITE.  His official title?  "The King's Friend."

That's awesome!  He probably had other duties that David assigned him, but the main reason he was on the royal payroll was because he was the King's friend.

I'm not famous, but I've heard celebrities & athletes talk about how fame brings out the worst in others.  So-called "friends" pop up all over - usually wanting something from the celebrity/athlete.  I'm guessing prominent leaders & politicians have a similar experience.  How crucial, then, to have at least one true friend to stick by you.  One who will speak the truth in love.  One who remembers you from before you were famous.  One who loves you for who you are, not for what your position/role is in society (or for what you give them!).  We all need to have a "friend of the king" in our lives!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hypocrisy abounds

[From July 16, 2013]

"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The Scribes & the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach!"
(Matthew 23:1-3)

It's been said that some want nothing to do with The Church, because "the church is full of hypocrites."  That's completely true.  (Yes, you read that right.)  We in the church ARE hypocrites.  But so is just about everyone else in the world, too.  It's just that we in the church are trying to be saved from our hypocrisy.

Jesus was familiar with hypocrisy in his day.  He saw it in the religious leaders.  So he taught people to follow what the teachers TEACH, but not how they live their own lives.  Ouch.  That's a harsh judgment but I can understand it.  As a pastor, there are times that I know I'm living out my faith.  But there are a lot of other moments where I'm faced with my own hypocrisy.

Paul put it this way: "I know what I should be doing, but I can't do it.  And the very things I hate are the things I find myself doing!  I'm so wretched!  What can rescue me from this?  Only Jesus."

As leaders, however, we're held to higher standards (as it should be).  But we're not perfect.  Save me, O God, from my own hypocrisy.  Make me more & more like you.  AMEN.

David's "3 Amigos"

[From July 11, 2013]

"When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi... Machir... and Barzillai... brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat barley, meal, parched grain, beans & lentils, honey & curds, sheep & cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat..."
(2 Samuel 17:27-29)

King David is on the run.  His son (Absalom) wants his throne (and his head!).  David has chosen to flee rather than fight his own flesh and blood.  He and his group of supporters arrive in Mahanaim - just East of the Jordan.  While there, 3 men bring them supplies (see the list above).  Scripture tells us they figured David & Co. were "hungry, weary, and thirsty in the wilderness" (v.29).

So I figured I'd comment on the generosity & hospitality of these 3 people - as a reminder to us all.  Then I started reading the notes in my study Bible as to who they were.  This is what I discovered, upon a little "digging"...

SHOBI... "son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Amonites."  Shobi's Dad, Nahash, was a brutal Amorite King.  He'd gouge out the right eye of all the people he vanquished in war.  In fact, according to 1 Samuel 10, he was the reason Saul became king of Israel!  But when David took over as king, tensions must've changed.  2 Sam. 10 says that David & Nahash had a treaty together.  When Nahash died, David offered to extend that peace to Hanun, his son.  Hanun refused... sought to fight David...  and was soundly defeated.  So now, Shobi, his brother, seems to be both honoring his father's treaty with David, and making amends for his brother's rude insult.  And being of royal lineage, Shobi would have had ample resources to share!

MACHIR... "son of Ammiel from Lo-debar."  In 2 Samuel 9, David seeks to honor the pledge he made to Saul's son, Jonathan, to care for his family after his death.  David discovers one of Jonathan's sons is still alive - a crippled young man.  Though from King Saul's lineage, his physical deformity made him unable to go to war (and thus unsuitable to be king).  David learned that "Machir son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar" was caring for (or at least providing hospitality for) Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son.  David subsequently offered to provide for him.  I'm guessing Machir loved Mephibosheth and was grateful for all the kindness David showed him... and thus wanted to repay him at his time of need.

BARZILLAI... "the Gileadite from Rogelim." Though we know nothing about him prior to this passage, in 2 Samuel 19 we learn that he was "a very wealthy man" (v.32).  He was also much older.  And obviously generous.  David also loved him and offered to care for him back in Jerusalem (when his throne was restored).  But Barzillai politely declined and opted to stay in his homeland.


[From July 8, 2013]

"I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel & Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more."
(2 Samuel 12:8)

Just about everyone knows the sordid story of David & Bathsheba.  Adultery has always been a factor in human society.  Our sexual desires/appetites are strong.  Oftentimes passion seems to trump commitment - in the "heat of the moment" it's hard to think clearly.  Modern day cinema & novels speak of "soul mates" and "true love," often surpassing current relationships.

But David knew what he was doing.  As King, he was the one in power and the instigator of this particular encounter.  Failure to control his impulses led to further deception and ultimately murder.  So God sent David's "pastor" to confront him via parable (2 Sam. 12:1-4).  David immediately saw the injustice in the parable, but needed Nathan to connect the dots to his own life.

What struck me as I reread this difficult passage today is that God would ahve given David more, had he but asked (v.18)!  We all have challenges with impulse control.  But instead of trying to "man up" and handle it ourselves, why not take those needs to God first?  Whether it's sexual frustration, financial challenges, relationship issues, etc.  Tell God our heart's desires and allow Him to shape and correct and provide whatever it is we need most.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Takes correction well"

[From July 5, 2013]

"I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul.  I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel & Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more."
(2 Samuel 12:8)

Just about everyone knows the sordid story of David & Bathsheba.  Adultery has always been a factor in human society.  Our sexual desires/appetites are very strong.  Oftentimes, passion seems to trump commitment - the the "heat of the moment" it's hard to think clearly.  Modern day cinema & novels speak of "soul mates" and "true love," often surpassing whatever current relationships one might be in.

But David knew what he was doing.  As King, he was the one in power & the instigator of this particular encounter.  Failure to control his impulses led to further deception, and ultimately murder.  So God sent David's pastor to confront him via parable (2 Sam. 12:1-4).  David immediately saw the injustice in the parable, but needed Nathan to connect the dots to his life.

What struck me as I reread this difficult passage today is that God would have given David more, had he but asked (v.8)!  We all have challenges with impulse control.  But instead of trying to "man up" and handle it ourselves, just go to God with a need.  Whether it's sexual frustration, financial challenges, relationship issues, etc... Tell God our heart's desires and allow Him to shape, correct, and provide whatever it is that we need most.


[From July 3, 2013]

"David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their kindred as the singers to play on musical instruments, on harps, and lyres, and cymbals, to raise loud sounds of joy.. Obed-edom and Jehiah also were to be gatekeepers for the ark."
(1 Chronicles 15:16, 24b)

One of the first things David does when he becomes king is bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem.  Attempt #1 does not go well. One of the men helping carry the ark absentmindedly touches it and is instantly killed.  So David, fearfully, leaves the ark at the home of a man named Obed-edom.  Three months pass.  Scripture tells us that God blessed Obed-edom.  Then David makes attempt #2... and finally is successful in moving the ark.

2 Samuel 6 is the chapter most go to when reading this story.  But it's also recorded by the Chronicler in 1 Chr. 15.  Because the Chronicler is interested in liturgy, we get the names of the singers, musicians, and band members who accompany the ark on its journey.  Obed-edom is mentioned as part of the lyre troop.  Then in verse 24, we're told he's also one of the four "gatekeepers of the ark," as well!

Maybe that's just an insignificant detail.  But I find it compellingly fascinating.  Obed-edom was a foreign supporter of David who happened to be in the right place at the right time, and through his faithfulness was blessed by hosting the ark.  Though the author of 2 Samuel no longer mentions him, 1 Chronicles 15 tells us David gave Obed-edom a future job: gatekeeper!  He recognized Obed-edom had a gift of caretaking and he allowed him to continue that.

I love that.  So should it be for all of us.  May each of us find what we're good at... what brings us joy, honors God, and is a blessing to others.  It may take us a few years to figure it out (it's not always discovered in college - though sometimes it is!)... but once we do, what a gift to be able to continue to do that!

On tax collectors...

[From July 2, 2013]

"And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors & sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples."
(Matthew 9:10)
My son is home for the summer from college.  He recently got a job with a temp agency.  He's worked at PepsiCo, as part of a moving company, and even for an auto-auction firm.  Yesterday, he got his second paycheck and was bemoaning the fact that so far, over $70 in taxes have been removed by the government.  Despite my reminding him that taxes help support out schools, roads, safety, the poor, etc., he was not assuaged.  Many have a similar gut response when it comes to taxes - and tax collectors!

In Jesus' day, tax collectors were some of the most hated people in all society.  They were fellow Jews who could extract as much money as they could from their neighbors.  So when Jesus called Matthew (who was a tax collector) to be one of his disciples, it caused a bit of a stir.  But when MORE tax collectors started coming, even the Jewish leaders started talking!  "Why dos (Jesus) eat with tax collectors & sinners?"

I think it's pretty cool that Jesus found a way into the tax collecting community, that led to many changed lives.  Once Matthew was accepted, word spread.  How much more good could we in the church do, if we cared less about what others think, and more about those who are the outcasts?

"Who You Gonna Call?"

[From 6.27.13]

"David was in great danger; for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in spirit for their sons & daughters.  But David strengthened himself int he LORD his God."
(1 Samuel 30:6)

David is in exile (self-imposed) because King Saul wants him dead.  He's fled to the land of the Philistines.  However, he's convinced King Achish that he's on their side.  Though the Philistine officers won't allow him to join them on the field of battle, Achish has given David the town of Ziklag.  He lives there along with the families of the men who've attached themselves to him - outcasts, renegades, and the disgruntled.

One day, upon returning to Ziklag after being away for 3 days, they discover (to their horror) that their town has been sacked and their wives and children are gone.  It's devastating, as you might imagine.  The author tells us these grown men, these warriors, "wept until they had no more strength to weep."  Understandably so!  But then things get ugly for David.  The men turn on their leader, and speak about his death.

What David did next is brilliant.  He didn't try to talk them out of it.  He didn't react with an iron fist.  He didn't flee.  No.  He "strengthened himself in the Lord."  He did what Jesus would frequently do during his lifetime, over a century later.  He drew strength from God.  He didn't try to figure it out himself or "tough it out" on his own strength.  He rested in God.  He silenced the outside influences and looked to his Creator for courage & hope.  All of us (not just pastors) can learn from this when we face criticism, upheaval, and sticky situations.

(Oh yah, in the strength of the LORD, he eventually led his men to get back all of their family members, safe & sound!  Praise God for that!)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Office of Trust"

[From 6/25/13]

"All these, who were chosen as gatekeepers at the thresholds, were 212.  They were enrolled by genealogies in their villages.  David & the seer Samuel established them in their office of trust.  So they and their descendants were in charge of the gates of the house of the LORD, that is, the house of the tent, as guards."
(1 Chronicles 9:22-23)

"And Judah was taken into exile in Babylon because of their unfaithfulness."  1 Chronicles 9 is very clear about the theological implications of the exile.  But it also marks the return of God's people to Judah.  This chapter might seem, at first glance, to be "boring."  It lists genealogies & tasks.  Period.

But they are the folks who were the first to return home, and the tasks which were entrusted to them: priests, Levites, gatekeepers, utensil crew (misc. helpers with utensils, furniture, spices, and other worship supplies), and the singers.  Each had an important job to do surrounding the worship of God.

I love the phrase the Chronicler used for the gatekeepers.  He says David & Samuel had established them in their "office of trust."  Of course, that was many, many years before the exile.  But their calling stayed.  Their role in the community's worship transcended time & sinfulness.

May we (may I!) take my role seriously - whatever it is that God has called me to do/be.  Especially those of us who have a role to play in worship... we've been given an office of trust.  May we (I) live up to that calling, even after I've let God down.


[From 6/24/13]

"When Abigail saw David, she hurried & alighted from the donkey, and fell before David on her face, bowing to the ground.  She fell at his feet and said, 'Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your servant speak in your ears...'"
(1 Samuel 25:23-24)

The story of Abigail & Nabal is an interesting one.  Nabal was grumpy, mean, rude, and stingy.  When David & Co. protected Nabal's shepherds in the wilderness, then asked for some provisions for a feast, Nabal turned them away quite selfishly.  It was a big insult, and David took it exactly the way it was intended.

What Nabal didn't know, of course, was his actions set in motion a chain of events that would not only lose him his wife, but lead to his death.  David thought he'd be the one to kill Nabal (and ALL his family - he was quite miffed!).

Enter Abigail.  Smart, beautiful, gracious, tactful, and generous (all the things Nabal wasn't!).  She intervened with food, flattery, and favors.  David relented.  Disaster was averted.  Even David recognized she saved him from blood guilt.

Sometimes we need to intervene on behalf of the ones we love, to spare them the guilt & repercussions of thoughtless actions.  That's a lesson most parents learn.  Unfortunately, so do some spouses.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


[From June 16, 2013]

"Samuel said, 'Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel?  The LORD anointed you king over Israel... Whey then did you not obey the voice of the LORD?'"
(1 Samuel 15:17, 19a)

We draw our strength from God. We get our sense of purpose & confidence from God.  Anywhere else (including our own strength) gets us in trouble.  Case in point: Israel's first king, Saul.

When the prophet Samuel came to anoint the young Saul as king, he initially protested: "I am only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the the tribe of Benjamin.  Why then have you spoken to me in this way?" (1 Samuel 9:21)  But Samuel assured him that he was God's anointed!

Fast-forward 6 chapters.  King Saul has been told by God (via Samuel) to attack & destroy the Amalekites (payback for how they treated the Israelites in the wilderness).  He was to leave nothing & no one alive.  (Now we today have issues with this apparent "genocide," but let's focus on Saul's obedience for now.)  He took his army and defeated the Amalekites... but left the king alive (captive) and took the best sheep and cattle (actually, the people got them!).

When Samuel came to confront Saul, he was actually proud that he'd "carried out the command of the LORD!"  "Then why do I hear the sound of sheep," Samuel asked?  Saul explained that they saved the best parts for God! For sacrificing!

Now, if you'd only had that information, it would sound like good reasoning, wouldn't it?  Save the best for God.  For religious services.  That's how it should be, right?  But it's really just an excuse.  God didn't ask for any sacrifices.  He wanted obedience.  And when Saul confessed (eventually) that he'd disobeyed God, he blamed it on the people.  "I feared the people, and obeyed their voice."  (I can hear them now, "It seem like such a waste to destroy perfectly good sheep & cattle.  Can't we just keep them... for sacrificing, you know!?!")

What does it mean for me (and my fellow colleagues) to be God's servant(s), when given a calling/command from the LORD?  Do I have the courage to find my strength in Him?  Amidst any insecurities and personal uncertainties, can I draw my strength from God?  Despite what people around me (including my church, my denomination, the community) are clamoring for?

Oh Lord God... may it be so.
May it be so.

Finishing with Integrity

[From June 13, 2013]

"Samuel said to all Israel... Here I am, testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed.  Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken?  Or whom have I defrauded?  Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it?  Testify against me and I will restore it to you."
(1 Samuel 12:3)

The prophet Samuel is coming to the end of his ministry.  His mother dedicated him to God as a young boy.  He grew up in the Tabernacle with the priest Eli.  He heard God's call in his life and eventually anointed Israel's first King (Saul).  Now it's time to step away from it all.  He's served the LORD well.

Samuel begins his farewell address to the people by asking them about his integrity.  Who has he cheated, robbed, or oppressed?  Now is the time to make things right.  They all confirm that he's cheated, robbed, or oppressed no one.  His life & ministry has been one of complete integrity.  (He then goes on to challenge them to continue to love, serve, and be faithful to God after his departure.)

This first part, however, really stood out for me, from a ministry leaders' perspective.  When we get appointed to a new church, can we stand before our former congregation and ask the same things?  Have we lived (and modeled) lives of integrity?  When we come to the end of our years of service (whenever that may be), can we ask the same questions and receive the same answers Samuel did?

Nobody's perfect, of course.  But people won't be able to hear the message of God's love & forgiveness for all creation if our lives aren't lived with integrity.  When we fall short, can we be honest & transparent... repent with all our hearts... and receive forgiveness?  Or must we maintain a facade of righteousness?

Be real.  Live with integrity.  Love God.  Love others.  That was Samuel's legacy.  
May it also be mine.

Monday, July 8, 2013

How to avoid being punk'd...

[From May 22, 2013]

"So the leaders partook of their provisions, and did not ask direction from the LORD."
(Joshua 9:14)

Israel is on a roll!  The hand of God is mightily upon them as they move into Canaan, carving out space for themselves, defeating neighbor after neighbor in battle... just as God has commanded them.  It's hard to read these chapters today without thinking of the ongoing fighting & strife in the Middle East.  Nevertheless, the Biblical writer seems to want us to know the Israelites were obeying God's commands in their new "Promised Land."

But there's a curious interlude in chapter 9 with the Hivites/Gibeonites.  They see all the devastation that's taking place, and feel their only option is trickery to survive.  So they dress in rags, bring moldy bread, and pretend they've come from afar solely for purpose of joining the Israelites, as political refugees.  They beg for mercy & seek a treaty between their two peoples.  The Israelite leaders fall for it, and make the alliance.  Three days later they discover they've been punk'd (tricked) by their neighbors that God had previously commanded them to destroy.  But true to their word, they don't attack them.  Ever.

The verse that got to me was v.14: "So the leaders partook of their (the Gibeonites) possessions, and did not ask direction from the LORD."  This cut me to the core.  How often, as an indivudal and as a church leader, do I move forward based on my own personal insight & decision-making process... without stopping to "inquire of the LORD"?  I would be afraid of having an inventory taken on my past actions/decisions.  So how can I improve in this area?  Only by God's help.

PRAYER: LORD God, you are the Almighty!  You have plans for me, my family, and your Church in Aiea.  Thank you for placing me in those positions of authority.  But I don't want to be the one who makes the decisions on my own.  I want You to guide and direct my plans.  So help me to "inquire of you" about everything.  Speak so I can hear.  Direct me in the ways I should go and lead.  Don't let me be deceived by not turning to you.  In Jesus' Name...

Boys will be boys?!?

[From May 20, 2013]

"Then Joshua son of Nun sent 2 men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, 'Go, view the land, especially Jericho.' So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there."
(Joshua 2:1)

Just into the Promised Land, Joshua sends two spies to scout the surrounding towns, especially Jericho.  That's understandable.  But WHERE the spies go first is quite shocking!  Scripture tells us the first place they visit is a prostitute's house in Jericho (say what?!?!).  Maybe they went for intelligence?  Maybe they figured folks in the Red Light District would have insider information, not available to the general public?  All the narrator tells us is that "they spent the night there."

Can you imagine these guys turning in their expense reports to Joshua upon return from their assignment?  'Um, yah... about that... uh, we were... um... doing research!!!  Yah, that's what it was!  We had to get close to the locals, so... you know... so they'd TRUST us!"

Well, despite their highly questionable morals, it worked well for the spies.  They found the Madam (Rahab) to be a woman who not only knew the Israelite history, but feared God and agreed to hide & shelter them.  Could God have been behind all this... or was it a case of "boys will be boys"?  The oldest profession in the world comes through again, for men in need.  Strange that God would choose (allow?) this scenario here.  But it helps us look more favorably on Rahab, a woman of faith.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Joy & Poverty

[from May 17, 2013]

"We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy & their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part."
(2 Corinthians 8:1-2)

Paul was taking a massive collection to support the "mother church" back in Jerusalem when he wrote these words to the church in Corinth.  He was bragging on the sacrificial giving (with JOY!) that the Macedonian churches made to the cause.  But when I read this during breakfast today, my heart immediately was transported to the Philippines.

I've had the pleasure of traveling to the Philippines twice with groups from Hawaii, connected with Compassion International.  Both times I was blessed by the amazing joy in the midst of poverty I experienced from the Compassion projects.  Some of the poorest of the poor shared so much love with us - because of the hope they have in Jesus Christ!  I was overwhelmed, to say the least.

I think sometimes our "things" get in the way of our spiritual journeys, here in the "first world."  When we learn to let go of the stuff we think is so important, we begin to experience the true JOY of God's kingdom, as we share in the blessing of others.

A deeper purpose

[from May 16, 2013]

"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death."
(2 Corinthians 7:10)

"Quit giving me such grief!"
"Why'd you have to bring that up?"
"Get off my case!"
"Quit trying to bring me down!"
"Stop attacking me!"

These phrases are common to us all.  Very few feel good when others correct, chastise, or hold us accountable for our actions.  And yet the author of 2 Corinthians (Paul) reminds us that there are two kinds of grief: godly grief and worldly grief.

WORLDLY GRIEF is stifling! It weighs heavy on our hearts & souls.  It causes stress & worry.  It erodes our psyche.  In short, it leads to death.  Worldly grief is close to harassment & bullying.

GODLY GRIEF, however, is grief for a reason.  It's grief that is designed to lead us into a new direction - to lead us back to God!  As Paul says, it produces repentance in our hearts, which leads us to salvation.  It's goal is not to injure or belittle... but rather to reunite us with God... to align our lives (in both thought & action) with God's will.  So while there may be initial hurt feelings, uncomfortable & awkward moments, it's ultimate desire is the joy of salvation.  That's the deeper purpose.

It all starts with...

[from May 13, 2013]

"Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart."
(2 Corinthians 4:1)

Being a pastor is a job, yes.  It's my chosen profession, of course.  One that I hope will last a lifetime.  But Paul reminds me in 2 Cor. 4:1 that it's all possible because of God's mercy.

God called me to the work of a pastor.  God equipped me with the gifts and graces to carry out that calling.  God's love & mercy sustains me in the ongoing quest to be faithful in this endeavor.

At times it's easy to forget that.  I get caught up in both the routine of ministry (the weekly rhythms of pastoral life - not the unexpected surprises that are always mixed in), and the confidence of knowing I'm doing my best to fulfill those rhythms.  But it's not about me.  It's about God's mercy that goes before me, preparing my way.

"SO DON'T LOSE HEART," writes Paul.  Keep on keeping on.  Though the highs and lows... through the exciting & the mundane... through the blessings and the challenges.  God's mercy & grace are sufficient.  (Really & truly!)

It's that important

[from May 9, 2013]

"Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise."
(Deuteronomy 6:7)

One of the most seminal passages in all of the Hebrew Bible (aka "Old Testament"), at least to our Jewish brothers & sisters, is Deuteronomy 6:4-5.  It's called "The Shema," after the first word in that passage: shema ("hear!").  The text says, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the LORD your God will all your heart... and soul... and might."

But what comes immediately after really spoke to me this morning.  Verse 7 reminds (commands!) the people to talk to their children about this important verse.  ALL... THE... TIME!  Literally.  At home, away, before bed at night, first thing in the morning.  Our role as parents is to talk to our kids about God and our need to love Him completely.  We're to do this all the time.  Deuteronomy doesn't suggest we allow kids to "choose for themselves" whether or not they want to follow the God we've given our lives to (at least not in their formative years). It says to TEACH them. Early & often.  We don't give kids the option to "choose for themselves" whether or not they want to go to school.  We take them because it's vital to their development as people.  It's the same with faith.

Yah, it's that important.

Trouble with Trust

[from May 7, 2013]

"The LORD your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, and int he wilderness, where you saw how the LORD... carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you have traveled until you reached this place.  But in spite of this, you have no trust in the LORD your God, who goes before you on the way... to show you the route you should take."
(Deuteronomy 1:30-33)

Sometimes we're so dense.  We "can't see the forest because of the trees," as my dad used to say.  God is active & moving through our lives, and we're clueless to His presence.

But we're not alone in this.  Israel was the same way.  The start of the book of Deuteronomy echoes this.  It recounts the "wilderness history" of God's people.  How God walked with, guided, prodded, protected, challenged, corrected, and shepherded the Israelites through their many ups and downs (mostly downs).  "But in spite of this," the author tells us, "you have no trust in the LORD."

Too often our history with others influences our ability to trust God.  When we've been hurt by, abused, and let down by others, we project that onto our relationship with God.  But God is not like others.  God is faithful and trustworthy.  And He wants to guide us into our future.  Will we let Him?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

All We Need Is Love

[From May 6, 2013]

"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."
(1 Corinthians 13:2)

Too often these days Christians are known more for what (or who!) we're against, than what we're for.  Pick your hot-button issue of choice.  Pick your area of the country.  Pick your political party.  It's easy to find Christians who are outspoken about some cause of group and people - and usually voicing their opposition negatively.

The only problem (well, it's not the ONLY problem) is that Jesus didn't operate that way... at all!  And the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, didn't think this way either.  In fact, he says THE MOST IMPORTANT quality - even more than prophesy, power, knowledge, and even faith - is LOVE.  Without love, we're worthless.

1 Corinthians 13 is frequently read at weddings... and rightly so.  But it's one thing to commit to loving our spouse... and another thing to commit that same love to everyone else (okay, so maybe not in the exact same WAY that we love our spouse, but you get the point). 

The Beatles were right.  All we need is love.

Equal Rights

[From May 2, 2013]

"Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son?  Give to us a possession among our father's brothers."
(Numbers 27:4)

It was time to divvy up the land.  The Israelites had "settled in" to the Promised Land.  They were now ready to settle down.  A census was taken.  The land was to be distributed in proportion to the size of each tribe of Israel.

In the MANESSEH tribe, a man named Zelophehad had died in the wilderness.  He had four daughters.  But the land was only being distributed to those with sons.  The daughters spoke up to Moses and asked for their fathers' share.  Now in a patriarchal society, this was a far-fetched request.  It would never pass, right?  But Moses took the issue to the LORD... who thought it was a reasonable one.  Not only for these women, but for ANY future situation that was similar.  That was fair.

Sometimes elements of the Bible get a bum rap for being so male-dominated.  But here's a great example of equality.  God allowed changes to be made which were more fair than "the way we've always done things."  We can learn from this... especially when thinking about all kinds of unequal situations today.

A Worse Perspective (doesn't help!)

[From May 1, 2013]

"So Balak said to Balaam, 'Come with me to another place from which you may see them; you shall see only part of them, and shall not see them all; then curse them for me from there.'"
(Numbers 23:13)

The Balak/Balaam story is classic!  Balak, the king of Moab, watched as the Israelites made their way into "The Promised Land."  Worried, he elicits help from Balaam, a prophet-for-hire, to curse them.  But God tells Balaam not to curse them.  But Balak is persistent!  He offers more incentives.  Eventually God gives Balaam permission to go - but not freedom to curse.

Attempt #1 - Bamoth-baal... 7 altars are built.  Sacrifices are made.  Balaam could see the Israelites in the distance.  God had him bless, not curse them.  "D'OH!"  Undeterred, Balak takes him to "another place."  But here's the kicker, it has an obscured view of the Israelites.  I'm guessing he thought if the Israelites weren't seen as clearly, maybe Balaam would have less problems cursing them.  Wrong!

but it makes an interesting point, doesn't it?  How often do we try something again, despite knowing it's wrong?  We justify it.  Or take a step back and try to look at it from an "obscured" perspective.  But it's still wrong.  The only perspective we need is God's. 

When will we (I) learn?

The Larger Picture

[From April 30, 2013]

"It is to peace that God has called you."
(1 Corinthians 7:15b)

Sometimes just reading a verse of scripture doesn't tell the whole story.  The surrounding context is crucial.  Such is the case with 1 Corinthians 7:15 - "It is to peace that God has called you."  Great verse, right?  A simple reminder to maintain positive relationships with our neighbors.

Not so fast...
Paul says this in regards to a specific relationship: Husbands & Wives.

It's actually quite an interesting entire chapter on "marital relations," covering such topics as celibacy (for singles), sexual relations (be open for your partner's needs!), divorce (just stay together), interfaith marriage (be an example to your unbelieving spouse), etc.

The divorce discussion is quite interesting.  If both in a marriage are believers, Paul says not to get divorced.  If your spouse isn't a believer, don't initiate a divorce (I'm guessing to maintain the example of love & commitment).  But if the unbelieving spouse wants a divorce, it's okay to grant it.  That's when Paul says, "It is to peace that God has called you."

Peace.  Think about it.  Think about others' needs & desires.  Don't fight.  Don't seek revenge.  Don't "punish" the one who has hurt you.  Simply be at peace.

This could be applied not only to marriages, but to other family relationships, friendships, work relationships, etc.  As Christians, we need to be living as examples for ALL to see. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Complete Rest

[From April 18, 2013]

"Six days shall work be done; but the 7th day is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation, you shall do no work: it is a sabbath to the LORD throughout your settlements."
(Leviticus 23:3)

"I'm so tired!"  People say it all the time, right?  We live in a busy & hectic age.  We've double-booked & over-scheduled ourselves to death (or is it just me?).  {Actually, I've noticed that as my kids have gotten older, and they chose what activities to be involved in, I'm having more "free time."}  But in general, Americans tend to push themselves towards a life of activity & doing.

Leviticus 3 was written thousands of years ago.  Inspired by the Divine, the author tells us that God doesn't want us to be busy ALL THE TIME.  We need rest.  Every seventh day should be a "sabbath of complete rest."  No work.  Just rest.

Unfortunately, over the centuries, we've corrupted that command to simply mean, "go to church once a week."  That's not exactly what God intended.  Yes, it's to be done to honor God, but it's supposed to be a DAY OF REST.  Our bodies need it.  So do our souls.  And don't feel guilty for "not getting anything done."  Enjoy it.  It's a gift.  One we truly need. 


Fact-Checking Required!

[From April 16, 2013]

"They seized (Paul), shouting, 'Fellow Israelites, help!  This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into this temple and has defiled this holy place.'"
(Acts 21:28)

It's amazing how quickly we'll believe something without checking the facts for ourselves.  In this uber-technological 21st century, we'll call virtually anything emailed to us or posted on the internet as truth - despite the fact that we have the means to research & fact-check better than any other era.  But we're lazy.  And gullible.  And easily swayed.  Especially when it comes to religion.

Paul was a victim of this.  Ever since he had his encounter with Jesus and became a Christian, people were out to kill him.  His own people - devout (extremist?) Jews, of whom he used to be himself.  And he knew this trip to Jerusalem would be a dangerous one.  Many tried to dissuade him from going.  But he felt God had called him, so he went.

The Christians in Jerusalem knew the dangers, too.  They knew the rumors that had been flowing around about Paul.  So they devised a plan: send him to the temple to participate in a totally Jewish ceremony - a purification ritual.  It backfired.  Big time.  When "the Jews from Asia" (read "haters") saw Paul in the temple, they assumed he'd taken non-Jews (aka Gentiles) into the forbidden area.  Without any justification to think so, they simply did.  So they stirred up the crowds & caused a riot.  The mob pulled Paul out of the temple and began to beat him mercilessly.

No one bothered to fact-check.  They all rushed to a false conclusion.  It took intervention by the Roman soldiers to break things up and restore civility.

Why do we do that?  Why do we allow ourselves to get worked up over things we don't bother to question?  Especially when it comes to the area of faith & religion? 

Lord, help us...

Loyalty or Grace?

[From April 10, 2013]

"But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia & had not accompanied them in the work." 
(Acts 15:38)

Which is stronger: loyalty or grace?  Paul & Barnabas debated this in the mission field.  We don't have a lot of details as to what transpired to cause this rift, but here's what we do know...
  1. John Mark had been part of Paul & Barnabas' ministry team.
  2. Something happened and John Mark left the team while in Pamphylia.
  3. Barnabas was ready now to welcome him back to the team.
  4. Paul refused.
  5. Paul & Barnabas split, taking separate teams into ministry.
The "nosey" part of me want to know more details about #2!  What happened?!?!  Was it that bad?  Was he fatally disloyal?  Does it reflect a serious character flaw in John Mark - one that would jeopardize future ministry endeavors?  Or was Paul simply holding a grudge, unwilling to forgive & extend grace?

I'm in no place to judge.  However, I tend to skew towards grace, and 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th, etc.) chances.  On the one hand, the end result was that two teams went out to share the gospel.  Double the efforts, right?!  On the other hand, we never hear from Barnabas (or John Mark) again in scripture. 

So what IS greater?  Loyalty or grace?
Teach me, Lord... teach me.

The Eternal Flame

[from April 3, 2013]

"You shall further command the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, so that a lamp may be set up to burn regularly.  In the tent of meeting... it shall be a perpetual ordinance to be observed throughout their generations by the Israelites."
(Exodus 27:20-21)

In the back of our sanctuary we have, hanging from the ceiling near the entrance, a red cylindrical lamp.  Most people probably don't even notice it.  But it's been there since the sanctuary was built.  The architect planned it.  I've always thought of it as "the eternal flame."  Today I found its scriptural reference: Exodus 27:20-21.

When God was giving Moses instructions on building their holy tabernacle, God threw in an "eternal flame."  It was an oil lamp set to burn inside the tabernacle, but outside the sacred curtain.  It was to remind the people of God's covenant with them.  When they couldn't see the presence of God, and may have wondered if God was even there, they could come to the tabernacle and look upon the eternal flame and know.  HE IS!

Maybe I should remind our congregation of this.  Surely we all have times in our lives when we wonder the same thing.  But God is here!  Hallelujah!  Look at the flame.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Pocket of Grace

[From 3/28/13]

"Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.  Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place."
(Exodus 9:18-19)

Occasionally I'd wonder about the 10 Plagues.  Remember the ones God inflicted on the Egyptians because the Pharaoh wouldn't let Moses leave with the people?  It always seemed a bit harsh to me.  Why ten?  Couldn't God have accomplished the same result with seven... or five... or three... or even one?  And if it was mostly Pharaoh's stubbornness, why'd the rest of Egypt have to suffer as well?

And then this morning as I was rereading a portion of the passage from Exodus, I saw something I'd never seen before.  It came during plague #7: HAIL.  (Well, technically just before plague #7)  When Mo told the Pharaoh and his advisers what was coming next on the hit list, he gave them an out.  He told them the hail would hit - and if they wanted to save their animals & slaves, they should bring them in from the open field.  "The officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried their slaves & livestock off to a secure place" (v.20).

Now why more didn't heed Mo's warning (after SIX PREVIOUS PLAGUES!!!), I have no idea.  But I found it incredibly compassionate that God gave the Egyptians this out - a minor respite from the divine assaults due to Pharaoh's hardheartedness.  Call it a "pocket of grace," if you will.

I'd wager that God provides tons of "pockets of grace" throughout our lives - if only we'd take the time to notice them.  Heck, it might even save us a bit of heartache.

"We're #1!"

[from 3/26/13]

"May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
(Galatians 6:14)

I love "March Madness."  The NCAA men's tournament has become an annual buffet of basketball beauty!  68 teams vie for the right to say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, "We're #1!"  The size of your school doesn't matter.  Your conference doesn't matter.  The only thing that ultimately matters is scoring more points than you opponents for 6 games in a row.  And we in the US go crazy watching it all transpire.

Unfortunately, we're also a culture that sows competition & comparison into all aspects of our life.  We (sometimes subtly and sometimes not) project an image of why "we're #1!" in so many areas.  But then again, maybe that's simply human nature.

Paul understood the dangers of this.  He chose to bypass that quagmire of relational quicksand and focus only on Jesus.  "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."  We're #1 only because of Jesus.  All other boasting, bragging, and attempt to separate ourselves from others can be let go of.  It's all Jesus.

(I wonder how different the Church Universal would be if we - especially pastors - adopted this as our way of life?)

The only thing that counts

[From 3/25/13]

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love."
(Galatians 5:6)

There are fashion trends & popular hair styles that are imitated.  In sports, effective tactics are copied.  Movie themes seem to be recycled over and over again.  The ancient phrase, "There's nothing new under the sun," echoes loudly today!

The early Christian church struggled with imitation.  Did the non-Jewish (ie. Gentile) converts need to be circumcised prior to conversion?  Since all the initial Christians were of Jewish background, this was a real & challenging dilemma. 

The apostle Paul, himself a former Pharisee (staunch conservative Jewish leader), argues for a different question.  Circumcision or not shouldn't even be a concern.  "The only thing that counts is faith working through love."

Wow.  There are a lot of things that people push to the front of the line concerning life axioms.  This one, however, seems to outdistance them all.  The only thing that counts (in our hearts, lives, in the world, etc.) is faith working through love.  How much better would we be if we lived this daily?

The whole city!

[From 3/5/13]

"That evening at sundown, they brought to (Jesus) all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons."
(Mark 1:32-34a)

The whole city was gathered around the door.  It wasn't a world premiere movie.  It wasn't a professional athlete.  It wasn't even the launch of the "iPhone BC."  It was Jesus.  Very early in his ministry, too.  But word had already spread ("fame," as v.28 puts it).  And so they came.  Lots of them.  The whole city.

PR departments might call it a coup (the homeowner might have a few other colorful words to add, however).  But people knew.  Give them credit.  Even early in Jesus' ministry, they knew.  He was different.  Beyond the miracles (which were awesome!), it was his presence & teaching as well that met a need some previously hadn't even known they had.  And so they came.  ALL of them came.

We still need what Jesus has to offer. But rarely do "all" of us come out for anything anymore.  How sad.  Because He's here!  All around us. 

So what'll we do about it?


[From 2/27/13]

"The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth."
(3 John 1)

Most days, when I'm Scripture Journaling, a passage sparks my imagination or spirit because of an idea or teaching. Today, however, it's all about a name: GAIUS.

There's only 1 person I've ever known with that name.  He was my campus minister in college.  Gaius Thede was a UMC pastor, who served the LORD by hanging out with college students.  Gaius looked like Abraham Lincoln, had Lincoln lived into his 60's.  He was full of vim & vigor, grace & understanding, passion & power, and a darn good sense of humor.  He loved God, and was willing to allow space in his faith for new revelation.  In other words, though he was a brilliant theologian, he never came across as a know-it-all.

Though no longer with us in this life, his legacy continues to live on in so many of the college students like myself who were blessed to have known Gaius.  I can echo the words of the writer of 3 John... he is "the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth."  Amen.


Beyond saying, "I Love You!"

[From 2/26/13]

"For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.  And this is the victory that conquers the world: our faith."
(1 John 5:3-4)

Popular romantic novels and romantic comedy films seem to spend a lot of energy around people telling each other that they love another.  Stereotypically, guys have a more difficult time doing this than their female counterparts, but not always.  Saying, "I love you!" has become the pinnacle of romantic expression these days.

When it comes to expressing our love for God, however, the author of 1 John challenges us to go beyond simply saying the words "I love you."  If we want God to know our love - DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!  Obey God's commandments.  Now that might seem a bit overwhelming, when you think about the Bible in its entirety.  But its' not about "fulfilling the law," it's about responding in love.  We're told in 1 John 5 that God's commandments aren't burdensome at all - instead, when we are "of God" (ie. following his commands), we'll conquer the world!  Maybe not in terms of worldly popularity and success... but with a life of meaning... a life worth living!

Lay It Down

[From 2/22/13]

"For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord."
(John 10:17-18)

I watched the movie ACT OF VALOR last night.  It received buzz because the main actors were active Navy Seals (rather than professional actors) who portrayed Navy Seals.  It was interesting to see things "from the inside," what this elite group of soldiers go through on assignment.

One of the more dramatic scenes in the film (spoiler alert!) has a soldier intentionally protecting his comrades by throwing himself on a grenade that had been thrown into their area.  he had very little time to think before acting.  he willingly gave up his life for the sake of his friends.  That scene (and many others in the film) was inspired by true events.

No matter how you may feel about the military, you have to admit many of these "get" what Jesus was talking about in John 10.  In their world, being willing to lay down one's life is a CHOICE they make.  It was also a choice Jesus made.  He wasn't "murdered," or "ambushed," or "tragically killed."  No, he willingly laid down his life for a world in need.  It was his choice.  He knew exactly what was happening.  He also knew that death was not the end.  That God had the power to raise the dead - either in this life or in life eternal.

(By the way, John 10 was also inspire by true events.  Praise God!)

Guess who doesn't judge?

[From 2/21/13]

"Jesus answered, 'Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I judge no one.'"
(John 8:14-15)

It has been said that the Christian Church today is more known for what we're against than what (or who) we're for.  That's really sad.  REALLY!  Because that wasn't true for Jesus.  He was constantly breaking down barriers & stereotypes amongst his faith community (Judaism).

In John 8, Jesus gets into (another) lengthy argument with the religious leaders.  They're challenging & questioning Jesus' authority... not believing anything he says to them.  He lays it out plain & simple: they judge people left & right.  "I judge no one," Jesus retorts.

In a world where Christianity comes across, in many circles, as being very judgmental, this should stop us in our tracks.  JESUS DOESN'T JUDGE.  Jesus loves... welcomes... embraces... forgives... heals... but he doesn't judge.  So why are we?  As his followers, we need to drop our air of superiority and assume the position of our Master: love.  'Nuff said.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Triple Strength

"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with sighing - for that would be harmful to you."
(Hebrews 13:7)

One verse gave me 3 very different emotional responses as I read it today.  Hebrews 13:7... It began with a feeling of satisfaction as I read the author calling church members to "obey your leaders and submit to them."  (Yah, that's right! I think to myself, as I puff out my chest, feeling good about my pastoral authority!!!)

Then a huge wave of foreboding engulfs me as I read how, as such a leader, I'm responsible for "keeping account" of their souls.  Oh yah, and I'll have to "give an account" (presumably to God).  Wow!  It's not simply leading worship & preaching a few sermons each Sunday... no it's "keeping watch over souls."  Am I keeping watch?  Or am I just doing my thing?  Can I give an adequate account for the people at Aiea UMC?  Really?  (Gulp!)

And then I laugh as I read, "Let them do this with joy and not sighing."  Ah yes... Some folks do cause more "sighing" than others!  LOL  But the vast majority (at least at Aiea UMC) fill me with JOY! 

What a great verse.


[From February 8, 2013]

"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone."
(Colossians 4:6)

Thumper taught us that "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  (Actually, it was his mother who taught him that!)  Thumper's mom must have read Colossians 4:6.  Paul reminds the church in Colossae to have "gracious speech" at all times, "seasoned with salt."

Salt is an interesting choice of words here, isn't it?  Salt gives flavor to a dish of food.  It actually enhances the flavor that's inherent to the aforementioned food, rather than imposing it's own flavor.  Also, salt was used in the OT for covenant-making.  The details aren't clear, but it was part of a binding agreement between two parties.  Maybe Paul is reminding us that gracious speech binds our relationships?

Just about everyone talks.  Just about everyone uses words. So everyone has a choice about what words they use.  Sure, it may require a bit of self-discipline, but we have the capacity to use "gracious speech."  How awesome would this world be if everyone did just that?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The blessing of contentment

"Not htat I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.  I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty."
(Philippians 4:11-12)

Why is it so hard to be content?  At least for us in the US, where food, resources, money and opportunities abound?  (Don't stop reading now because you don't think you personally have very much - compared to most of the rest of the world, we're incredibly wealthy.  Many live on less than $2/day.)

I don't consider myself materialistic, by any means.  Yet I confess thinking (dreaming) about more.  Better stereo/entertainment system.  More music, books, movies, etc.  Upgrading my headphones, etc.  Sometimes I daydream about travel & vacation opportunities.  Sometimes I wonder what a bigger bank account might mean for my lifestyle, etc.  You know what I mean, right?

Paul, in his letter to the church in Philippi, talks about the blessing of being CONTENT.  He's had both little and plenty.  He's learned to be content with whatever he has.  Instead of wishing, dreaming, longing, desiring (ie. wasting time) for what I don't have, I need to learn to be content with what I DO have.  There is blessing to be found all around me, if only I'll learn the joy of contentment!  If things change down the line, so be it.  But spend the now with a spirit of gratitude, appreciation & joy.  So help me God.

HE > I

[From Feb. 6, 2013]

"Turn my heart toward your decrees, and not to selfish gain."
(Psalm 119:36)

It's a simple request, really.  And yet an on-going human struggle.  The writer of Psalm 119 asks God for his heart to be turned to Him (God) and away from his own selfish desires.

It's not a "God is good and we're bad" mentality.  The reality is we skew towards ourselves - what we want, desire, think we need, etc.  We tend towards self-preservation, not self-sacrifice.  But the over-arching theme of the Bible is one of putting others first.  God modeled it.  God's love and favor comes to us inspite of how little we "deserve" it.  And God calls us to give ourselves away to others, in that same spirit of love and grace.

HE > I.  A Christian company here in Hawaii has that as it's logo.  He is greater than I (am).  Putting God first.  Desiring what God desires.  Much of the time that's what we do.  But we all have those moments when our human frailty reveals our lusts, desires, and selfishness demanding control.  It's precisely at those times that we need God to turn our hearts towards him.  Psalm 119:36.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Be careful what you wish for!

"...Join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company."
(Romans 15:30-32)

We could label it: "Be careful what you wish for," or "God's ways are not our ways."  Either way, I find these verses from the end of Romans 15 quite striking.  Let me set the stage...

Paul, who grew up as "Saul," had been a zealous Pharisee (Jewish religious leader), before his conversion to Christianity.  In his early days as a new believer, he went form synagogue to synagogue sharing the Gospel with his fellow Jews.  Some converted.  Many didn't.  Some even got so upset they sought to do him bodily harm!  So he changed his "M.O.", and started preaching to the Gentiles (non-Jews), which was groundbreaking at that time.  After helping start numerous communities of Gentile believers, Paul asked them to make a sacrificial "love offering" to the original believers (aka Jewish Christians from Jerusalem).  Now he's on his way back to deliver the gift.  He also wants to visit the believers in Rome, and tells them so in this letter we have.

What actually happened when he got to Jerusalem is this... He gave the offering to the Church. The "unbelievers in Judea" got him arrested on trumped-up charges, and almost succeeded in assassinating him while in custody.  In the end, Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to the Emperor, and thus was transported (as a prisoner) to Rome, where he lived a couple of years before his death.

So in the end, his prayer to the church in Rome (Romans 15:30-32) was indeed answered.  He did make it to them - only as a prisoner.  But I reckon Paul didn't mind so much.  He was still able to meet with the believers even as a prisoner.  And he said on more than one occasion that he was "a prisoner of the Lord Jesus" (Ephesians 4:1).

So be careful what you wish for... or just know that God is ultimately in control, no matter what comes our way.  We need to use every moment we have for God's glory!

Beyond pre-nups!

[From Feb.1, 2013]

"For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all Abraham's descendants, not only to the adherents of the law, but also to those who share the faith of Abraham..." 
(Romans 4:16)

Loans.  Promissory notes.  Collateral.  Prenuptial agreements.  Binding contracts.  We're familiar with how our agreements and promises are made.  Two (or more) parties have goods or services they plan on exchanging.  Details are laid out ahead of time.  No one enters into such an agreement without believing the other party will fulfill their end of the bargain.

Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, lays out the promise of God to Abraham.  The Covenant!  When Abraham had nothing to give God except his faith, God made the promise.  It wasn't contingent upon anything Abe did (or didn't do).  It was all on God.  Paul says that's a promise that "rests on grace."

I love that phrase!  That's how God works, isn't it?  He doesn't give us what we deserve, but instead showers us with love & forgiveness.  In return, we're invited to do the same for others.  May we be agents of grace - God's transforming grace!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Triple Whammy

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness & honor...; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister... For God did not call us to impurity, but in holiness."
(1 Thessalonians 4:3-7)

Every book in the Bible has an original context in which it was written.  Some specific reason prompted each author to communicate a particular subject to a particular people. Of course, there's still insight & relevance to us today, but it's helpful to know the original context.

The Church in Thessalonica evidently was a "passionate" people, who also had issues with impulse control.  The author addresses 3 specific areas when talking about their sanctification (how God wants them to grow into holiness):
  • Quit having sex with people you're not married to...
  • Keep your own body in check (quit lusting)...
  • Don't exploit others anymore...
The author ends by reminding them that God calls each of us to a life of holiness.

Now, if you took this list as "the word" for all of us in every situation, you might wonder about other items not listed, that have also traditionally been important to the faithful: unconditional love, forgiveness, issues of justice, caring for the poor & needy, caring for creation, etc.  But this wasn't intended to be the "end-all and be-all" of Christian sanctification.  It was just what the church in Thessalonica needed to hear at that time.

And yet, I dare say that our society still has these same issues that challenge many of us today.  As we hunger for love & affection, sexual intimacy is happening all the time - and not exclusively within the bounds of a committed relationship.  Then because we live in a highly sexualized culture, lust is a fierce demon to tame. Finally, the exploitation of men, women & children is almost as rampant now as it's ever been!  Human trafficking is widespread.  The sex industry makes billions of dollars exploiting people.  Child soldiers are having their childhood (& innocence) ripped from them.  These truly are ongoing issues of "impurity."

May all of us take a page from the admonition to the community on Thessalonica, and make a step towards a more holy life today.  AMEN!

Like a Chess Grand Master

[From Jan. 29, 2013]

"Then Jesus said to them, 'You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'  But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.'"
(Matthew 26:31-32)

Jesus knew.  He tried to warn them.  Tried to prepare them.  But they weren't getting it.  He knew that too.  So as the moment drew near, he told them one more time.  It was all going to fall apart.  At least, that's what it would look like to them.  He was going to be captured and killed.  They'd freak out and run.  It would be the natural human response to such a traumatic experience.

Yep, Jesus knew.  But he also had a plan.  Actually, God had the plan.  Death wouldn't be the end.  There was a surprise waiting: LIFE! RESURRECTION!  Their tears & grief would turn into laughter and praise.  But they weren't able to hear that right now.  They weren't able to process what Jesus was telling them.  No worries. The second part of the plan was that he was going ahead of them.  To Galilee.  Back to where it all started.  Back home.

I love the idea that God, like a Chess Grand Master, is always thinking numerous steps ahead of the rest of us.  We may not "get it" - may not be aware of the grand scheme of what's taking place in our lives.  But God does.  God knows!  And he's already ahead of us, so when we DO come around, he'll be there waiting and ready.

It's kind of comforting, actually.  And inspiring!

"Do As I Say..."

[From Jan. 28, 2013]

"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The scribes & Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.'"
(Matthew 23:1-3)

Jesus was always having run-ins with the Jewish religious leaders of his day: Scribes, Pharisees, & Sadducees.  He was not a fan.  He railed against their blatant hypocrisy and failure to lead the people the way God intended them to.  Matthew 23 has verse after verse of Jesus' warnings to the people about these leaders.

But I noticed something quite interesting today as I re-read this passage.  Jesus doesn't completely discredit these leaders.  Not really.  He tells the people that they've earned a certain amount of authority because of their position.  They "sit on Moses' seat."  Meaning, they've been adequately trained and have come through the ranks according to tradition.  SO LISTEN TO THE CONTENT OF THEIR TEACHING, Jesus says.  Just don't look at their lives as examples!  They don't live what they teach.

Wow.  Harsh!  I wonder if the same could be said for many of us PASTORS?  Listen to our sermons & bible studies.. but don't follow our lives, because we don't live it.  Wow.  

Forgive me, Lord.  Forgive me if I've led people astray by my actions.  Help me to be more like you.  AMEN.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Persons of Sincerity

"For we are not peddlers of God's word, like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence."
(2 Corinthians 2:17)

Yesterday news broke about Notre Dame football standout Manti Te'o.  The details are still a bit fuzzy, but it appears he's the victim of a relationship scam/hoax.  Last fall, both his grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day - his girlfriend from leukemia.  It was a major news story all over the country - including a cover story from Sports Illustrated.

Yesterday it was revealed that he'd been tricked.  He had an online relationship with a girl he'd never met.  Turns out she never actually existed.  At least not the girl he thought he was in a relationship with!  Someone was "playing him" the whole time.  At least that's how ND and Te'o are spinning it.

Now, I have no reason to doubt Manti.  Plus, he's from Hawaii, so I want to believe the best.  But there are a TON of issues that are raised here - including honesty, integrity & sincerity.  Some have wondered if Manti got caught up in the "glow of media attention" and embellished this online relationship into something it (literally) wasn't.  Let's hope it wasn't an intentional move on his part to be deceptive.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, speaks about personal integrity and sincerity... how he didn't come to them trying to "sell God" to them (to pad his own bank account!).  Instead, he came, having been "sent from God and studying in his presence."  As fascinating as the Manti Te'o saga is, what really should matter to me is how I live my life - especially as a husband, father, and pastor.  Am I perfect? Heck no!  Do I sin & fall short of God's expectations of me?  Yep.  Nevertheless, I'm called to be a person of sincerity and integrity... especially when it comes to my faith.

I'm going to be praying for Manti, his family, and all those involved in perpetrating this incredible hoax.  I invite you to join me.  And while you're at it, pray for me, too. (Thanks!)


[From Jan. 14, 2013]

"As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you...'"
(1 Corinthians 12:20-21)

The Church as a Body is a familiar image to those within Christianity.  We know that God has made each of us with different gifts and abilities... and when we work together, we function the way God intended.  Paul lays this out beautifully in 1 Corinthians 12.

Almost every time I read this, I think: "Be grateful for how God made you! Don't wish to be something you're not."  Paul talks about needing eyes, ears, hands, feet, etc.  A body with all eyes wouldn't be as well-rounded as a complete body.

But today I was drawn to the second part of Paul's treatise.  The part that chastises body parts for telling other body parts they're not needed.  (Wow! How'd I miss that before?)  It's not just recognizing each of us have a place in the body... but that we need each other!  We can't "vote anyone off the island," just because they're not like us.  We need each other.

God has made the church diverse for a reason.  How often do we try and change that?  Shame on us.

Growth? (See "GOD")

[From Jan. 10, 2013]

"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."
(1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

We Americans love competition.  Or should I say "we American guys" love competition!?!  You name it, we'll challenge each other to it: sports, politics, entertainment, love, etc... heck, when my son was little, we made a game out of practically everything we wanted him to learn!  We love competition.

Unfortunately, however, the drive to compete has found its way even into our churches.  Who has the biggest church?  Whose church is growing faster?  Who's giving more away to missions?  Who's had the most new-member baptisms?  Who has the most active small groups?  I could go on and on...  Oh, we don't actually SAY these things out loud to each other, but they're frequently in the back (or forefront?) of our minds.

Paul gives us a wonderful perspective on this very topic.  The Church in Corinth was having problems with factions among the congregation, based on various leaders (current & past).  It doesn't matter, he says.  We're not important!  GOD GIVES GROWTH. Look to God.  Everything that is good about us and the churches we serve comes from God.  Period.  That's a lesson many of us pastors still need to learn.

Just as I am...

[From Jan. 4, 2013]

"And Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple."
(Mark 11:15-16)

It was his first day back in the big city... a city he'd been to countless times before.  But this wasn't just ANY big city... this was THE BIG CITY!  The center of life & faith!  JERUSALEM!  And the focal point of this city was undoubtedly the temple.  So it's no surprise that's where he went first.  But it was late.  So all he seemed to do was look around & leave.

The following day was a completely different story.  Once inside, he immediately began to shake things up.  Money changers had their tables overturned.  Merchants selling sacrificial animals were driven off.  The place was in chaos!  And then Mark tells us something peculiar about what Jesus did next: "...and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple" (Mark 11:16).

That one sentence struck me as quite strange.  Why not?  Was it the vendors he was trying to keep out (or at least keep out their "wares")?  Or was this truly directed towards everybody?  If so, why would he not want regular worshipers to bring things in, like their sacrifices?  Could it be that people had gotten too caught up with the "doing" of worship (ie. what animals to bring, how much money, what specific procedures were needed to carry out these "obligations," etc.) that they had no longer recognized the simple power of BEING in God's presence?  Could it be that he was physically demonstrating God's words from scripture, "I desire your heart, not your sacrifice"?

What would it mean today for us to be forbidden to "carry anything through the temple"?  What would it mean to strip away all of the familiar patterns of worship?  All of those rituals we've come to find comforting? All of the "stuff we do" on Sunday mornings... so that all that's left is just US AND GOD?  "Just as I am, without one plea..." goes the old hymn.  Maybe Jesus was on to something?!

Lord, help me unburden myself before you.  Let me let go of the need "to do" certain things before you.  Help me un-clutter all of those things that get in the way of me being with you.  Truly with you.  Just as I am.  AMEN.

Don't be a hater!

[From 12/28/12]

"By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities."
(Acts 26:11)

Hate is a powerful force.  Couple it with religion and it often becomes lethal.  Paul knows.  He'd been a Pharisee for most of his life - a strict adherent to the Law of Moses.  That's why the "People of the Way" (aka early Christians) got him so riled up.  They followed the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who advocated things in opposition to the Law (or so he thought).  So Paul (actually, he was known as Saul at that time) pursued these Christians.  Vigorously pursued them.  Even to foreign cities!  Why?  It was his hate & anger that fueled him.  "I was so furiously enraged," he writes.

Then God changed his mind.  Turned him around completely.  Anger & passion turned to love and passion!  And so much good was accomplished!

Why is it that hate - especially "religiously-fueled" hate - is so strong with so many?  Is it fear?  Deep-seeded uncertainty?  How powerful that Jesus came to transform our fear & uncertainty into love and grace.  Don't be a hater.  All we need is love!  May people come to see all Christians as ambassadors of love & grace... always!

Hospitality Extrarodinaire

[From 12/27/12]

"...We sailed to Syria & landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload cargo there.  We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days."
(Acts 21:3b-4a)

Paul is making his way to Jerusalem with a "super offering" for the mother church from many of the mission churches he's helped establish.  Along the way, we're told that he stopped in Tyre.  I love the language: "We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days."

Though I doubt they Googled "Tyre Christians" on their iPhones and GPS'd their way into a cozy B&B with a fish symbol displayed prominently on their sign... it's still neat to hear about ancient hospitality.  No warning.  No reservations.  No checking in advance.  They simply show up and are taken care of by "the disciples."  Why?  Travelers came through all the time.  Everyone was expected to be hospitable.  But Christians especially were called (by Jesus!) to reach out to those in need.  Ergo, instant welcome!

We were made to be in COMMUNITY!  When at our best, we're surrounded by and encouraging others.  As amazing as 5-star, deluxe accommodations may be (or so I've been told), nothing beats the company of someone who has the love of God overflowing from their lives.  Praise God for all who create space for others!