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!