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.