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?