Monday, December 29, 2014

Keeping God to Ourselves?

"It's because of this 'whole world' dimension that the Jews grabbed me in the Temple that day and tried to kill me.  They want to keep God for themselves."
(Acts 26:21, The Message)

Isn't it ironic... that a Christians we serve a God of abundant love & grace... a God who loves EVERYBODY and wants ALL to come into a relationship with him... and yet a significant portion of his followers want to keep him just for themselves?

Oh, they may not say so outright.  They'll claim they're open and inviting... but a close look at their church "rules" (or polity) discover who's allowed to be "on the inside" with communion & membership.  Examine their spending/giving practices a sa church, and see they're not as open & inviting as they'd like you to believe.

Paul met this while he was an ambassador for Christ.  He'd been a Jewish pharisee (very strict adherent) his whole life.  Then when Jesus grabbed his heart, he tried calling many of his follow Jewish brothers & sisters to the life of a Christian.  Some followed.  Many refused.  Not only refused, but sought to kill Paul to stop his evangelistic efforts.  "They want to keep God for themselves," he said.  How said.

It still happens today.  Why are there so many "haters" within the faith today?  God is much bigger than our attempts to control or confine Him.  Praise God for that!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Heart problems

"Our ancestors were unwilling to obey (Moses); instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, 'Make gods for us who will lead the way for us...'"
(Acts 7:39-40)

Stephen had something to say.  Something important. And it got him killed.  As one of the leaders of the early church, Stephen was instrumental in the rapid growth that was happening among the followers of Jesus!  He did "great signs and wonders" among the people, the narrator of Acts says.  Some within Judaism took umbrage with him.  They had Stephen arrested on trumped-up charges and false witnesses.

When he had a chance to speak on his own behalf, Stephen chose to recount Israel's saving history - how God has been with them & challenged them towards faithfulness... often without success.  He shared a time when the Hebrews had been freed from slavery in Egypt and were being led by Moses through the wilderness.  They basically refused to follow God's leadership via Moses.  "In their hearts they turned back to Egypt," said Stephen.

Wow.  How accurate.  Too often we, as humans... nay, as Christian believers... fail to trust where God is leading us - especially if it's new, uncharted, and unfamiliar territory.  We can't see it ending well, so in our hearts, we "turn back to Egypt."  We choose the safe, the familiar, the comfortable... the small view of the world.  It becomes, in a sense, a 'god' to us - demanding the loyalty we should reserve for God alone.  How sad.  God is constantly urging us to step into deeper waters with Him... if only our hearts would be brave enough to follow.

"LORD, heal our heart problems!  Inspire us to follow you boldly! Empower us to trust you and move forward in faith wherever it is you may lead us!  AMEN."

Thursday, December 18, 2014


"Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse."
(Malachi 4:5-6)

The very last verses of the very last book of the Hebrew Scriptures (aka "Old Testament") are very interesting.  One might expect them to point to God's ultimate reconciliation with humanity, bringing about His Kingdom (which it does - 'the day of the Lord').  One might expect it to allude to the coming Messiah (which it kind of does - pointing to a prophet who will help people get ready for that day... a "John the Baptist," maybe!?!).  But it also adds something... it mentions a big part of getting ready for God's Kingdom to come is RECONCILIATION between parents & children.

It breaks my heart to know that some parents & children are estranged.  The reasons vary, of course: from abuse & neglect to abandonment & betrayal... from addiction & self-destructive habits to lifestyle choices never embraced.  Sometimes it's a "mutual decision" to remain distant.  Other times the separation is imposed by just one party.  Almost all of the time, however, pain, hurt, frustration & sorrow are in the mix.

I love how the last verses of the very last book in the Old Testament speak of this reconciliation between parents & children.  That shows me how important it is to God.  In fact, you could make the case that the overriding theme of the Bible is reconciliation.  Humanity's reconciliation with God.  Those 'on the outside' being reconciled as 'insiders.  Those lost being reconciled as found.  Sinners (ie. all of us!) reconciled as forgiven.  I could go on and on...

So my prayer today in this season of Advent - preparing for the coming of Christmas - is that there might be reconciliation for all parents & children... no matter what their ages... or now long they've been distant... or how deep the wounds.    Reconciliation doesn't mean allowing oneself to be hurt again... it means offering genuine forgiveness & releasing the desire for retribution.  It doesn't mean the absence of justice, but being open for grace to work its wonders.

Could there be a greater gift this Christmas?!?

Times of Refreshing

[From 12-16-14]

"Repent, therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the LORD..."
(Acts 3:19-20a)

Too many people envision God as the "Divine Police Office" (or maybe Divine Parole Officer), looking down on us, waiting to catch us screwing up.  It could be because we, as human beings, are so apt to call others out when they sin... or simply revel in others' misfortunes.  It's a sad truth, I know.

But the story in Scripture is quite different.  Sure, there are times when God holds his people accountable for the sins they've committed.  But more often than not, God seeks to lead people out of their sinful lifestyle, and in to a new freedom and relationship with Him.

That's why I LOVE today's passage from Acts 3.  The author (Luke) calls us all to (re)turn to God in repentance.  Not because God will "smite us" or is waiting to impose some eternal punishment on us.  No.  It's because He wants to bless us.  (read that last sentence again!)  Seriously.  When we turn away from behavior inconsistent with God's plan for us, we open ourselves to "times of refreshing."  Wow!  Isn't that a great phrase?  Times of refreshing.  Whose soul couldn't use some of that?!?

Friday, December 12, 2014


"It was not about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until 3 in the afternoon, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two."
(Luke 23:44-45)

Three hours.  From noon to 3pm.  Darkness.  It wasn't a normal, happens-all-the-time-at-this-point-in-the-year event.  The author of Luke tells us "the sun's light failed."  Was this both literal and symbolic?  As Jesus, God's son, was hanging on the cross... as his life was ebbing away... the sun's (son's?) light failed.  And darkness swept across the land.

There are "moments of darkness" in the world all the time.  Right now we, as a country, are struggling with what it means to live together amidst diversity.  The immigration issue is one area.  The justice system (especially dealing with minorities and alleged police brutality) is another.  Countries (and radical extremist groups) fighting each other... the list could go on and on.

Whenever we fail to treat people as God's beloved children (which we ALL are), darkness prevails.

Anytime we go against Jesus' call to love, forgive, and bless those around us, darkness prevails.

But there's hope.  Jesus' crucifixion led to resurrection.  And while he was on the cross, Jesus even prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

Our sins, shortcomings, and failures are forgiven.
Let's try to live in the light, not darkness, folks.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

July 2000

"How very good & pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity."
(Psalm 133:1)

In July 2000 I was called to serve as pastor of Aiea UMC.  One of the main reasons the Bishop said I was a good fit for the appointment, was because of the relationship with Aiea Korean UMC.  To be honest, it was not a good one at that time.  AKUMC had been sharing space with Aiea UMC for close to 25 years at that point.  Two separate churches sharing one location.  Two separate congregations.  Two separate leadership teams.  Two separate budgets.  One parking area.  One facility.  As you might imagine, it made for some challenging relationships.

In July 2000, relations between the leaders of both congregations was "strained" to say the least.  Ill will was definitely flowing.  The Spirit of Christ was hard to find at times (mostly connected with the leadership of both churches).  I had served as a pastor at Christ UMC for 3 years (1994-1997).  CUMC Is a Korean-language church.  In fact, it was THE FIRST church for Koreans anywhere outside of the country of Korea, in any denomination!  It's a historic congregation in Korean spirituality.  I was the English-language pastor during my 3 years.  That experience helped me understand a bit about Korean church culture.  The Bishop & cabinet hoped that would help me at Aiea UMC.

Now, some 15 years later, I'm blessed to say that our two congregations are dwelling together in unity.  We still have challenges, frustrations & disappointments with space use, parking, calendering, etc.  But what "family" doesn't have a little bit of challenges, frustrations & disappointments?  By the grace of God, leaders from both congregations have worked hard to live together with grace, not judgment.  I'm grateful for this experience.  And hopeful for our future!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A finals week text

"And you, Ezra, according to the God-given wisdom you possess..."
(Ezra 7:25a)

Today is the first day of finals at Judson University in Elgin, IL.  My son, Ezra, is a junior there.  This is his first semester at Judson.  He spent his first two years of higher education at Montreat College near Asheville, NC.  He's a collegiate athlete (soccer is his sport of choice!).  I'm really proud of him.  He's maintained an excellent GPA while being an athlete (ie. missing classes while traveling for games, time away from studying on the practice field, etc.). 

So today I was reading 2 chapters in the book that bears his name.  The scribe, Ezra, is being sent back to Jerusalem (from captivity in Babylon) to help rebuild the temple.  The King (Artaxerxes) is sending him with money & his blessing.  He also knows that Ezra has "God-given wisdom" and encourages him to use it.

It was a neat moment for me this morning.  As I was reading the words of Scripture, I was reminded of the wisdom that God has given my son.  We still don't know where his journey will eventually lead - what God has in store for his future & career... but it was a reminder that God has indeed given him wisdom.  So I texted him this morning, encouraging him to use that godly wisdom.

And I am grateful for my son.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The ultimate gift!

"The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever."
(Psalm 138:8)

It's the Christmas season.  Lights, decorations, cards, carols, parties, shopping, wrapping, baking, music & gift giving are all "part & parcel" of this month's activities.  We all have our lists of things that need to be done before December 25th... including those people we want to bless with a gift.

Jody and I are doing Christmas gifts a little simpler this year.  We've decided on one big gift for each of our kids.  We're taking the family to the Big Island to spend Christmas with Jody's parents, brother & family, and sister (who's coming in from North Carolina).  While on our morning walk today, we both agreed that we didn't want (or need) much more.

Psalm 138 is a psalm of thanksgiving.  The author is grateful for God's rescue & blessings.  Then at the very end he writes: "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me."  And it hit me... THAT is the ULTIMATE Christmas gift.  The prayer that God's purposes may be fulfilled in the lives of my wife, my two children (especially as they both are nearing the "next steps" in important life decisions), myself (both as a person and as a pastor)... but also my church (as a whole, and for each individual within!)... my friends... heck, everyone (even those I'm not too fond of - they especially need God's purposes fulfilled in them!).

Lord, help me to pray this prayer every day during this Advent Season (and beyond!)... "FULFILL YOUR PURPOSE IN ME!"

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Ferguson, NYC, & Jerusalem

"On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David & the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin & impurity."
(Zechariah 13:1)

Here in the United States, recent events surrounding the deaths of two African-American men, Michael Brown & Eric Garner, plus the subsequent Grand Juries choosing not to indict any officer involved in either death, and the passionate response across the nation, has shown us just how far we are away from living the way that God envisioned this world.  We do not treat each other equally.  We do not seek peace, grace & respect among each other.  We do not strive to understand one another completely. 

As I read Zechariah today, my thoughts were on our country.  Zechariah wrote at a time of great national turmoil & struggle... a time in which  the people of Israel were anticipating the coming of the Messiah to help set things right.  They longed for the day when God would fulfill his plans for this world.  In light of our struggles as (sometimes deeply) flawed humans, these words from Zechariah have added death of meaning (and hope!):
  • "On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David & the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin & impurity." (Zech. 13:1)
  • "On that day living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea, and half to the western sea." (Zech. 14:8)
  • "And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one." (Zech. 14:9).
We definitely need a cleansing fountain.  We need healing, forgiveness, grace, & peace.  We need divine living waters to flow through our lives... and communities... from Ferguson, MO to NYC, to Jerusalem... and beyond.

"Come, Lord Jesus!  Come."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

4 pieces of advice

"These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true & make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the LORD."
(Zechariah 8:16-17)

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God uses the prophets to call the people to account, and to spur them towards right action.  Sometimes (oftentimes?) it's hard to hear those messages.  We humans generally don't gravitate towards being corrected.  Nevertheless, we need it!

Zechariah 8:16-17 is a very simple message of life-correction admonitions:
  • "Speak the truth to one another"... this is more than just "don't lie."  It involves having hard conversations when someone needs to hear the truth.  The challenge, of course, is differentiating truth from mere opinion.  Trust the Holy Spirit to help you discern this.
  • "Render... (true) judgments that make for peace"... Justice.  Honesty.  Righteousness.  Don't show favoritism when making decisions.  And always default on the side of peacemaking.  When in doubt, err towards healing, not provoking.
  • "Don't devise evil... against others"... This should go without saying, but unfortunately we often do evil against one another.  Revenge, vengeance, jealousy, spite, etc.  "Just don't do it!" says God.  Wish for the BEST for everyone.  Even those who've hurt you.
  • "Love no false oath"... Let your words be true.  Always.
Forgive me, O God, when I fall short here... Encourage me along the right paths.  And may I help lead others in these directions, too!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ulterior Motives?

"When the adversaries of Judah & Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of families and said to them, 'Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of King Esar-haddon of Assyria who brought us here."
(Ezra 4:1-2)

Not everyone who asks to help really wants to help. 

Case in point: Ezra 4.  The Israelites have returned from a 70-year exile in Babylon.  They're starting to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem, as well as the city walls.  Their neighbors offer to help.  Now, on the surface, this looks like a mighty friendly offer!  They even say they're on the same page, spiritually, as them ("We worship God, too!").

The problem is, however, their past.  They've never been friendly & helpful before.  Never.  In fact, the author describes them as "adversaries" of the people of God.  This should be a BIG RED FLAG!  Later, when Zerubbabel flatly denies their request, they write to the King of Persia, "tattle-taling" on the Israelites, and getting a "cease and desist" injunction against their future building.

Not everyone who asks to help really wants to help.

Spiritual discernment is the key.  Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart and confirm if the offer of help is a positive one, or if it comes with ulterior motives.  Then trust that insight.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Best comeback ever.

"(Jesus) said to them, 'Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?'"
(Luke 2:49)

There's only one story in the Bible about Jesus as a teenager.  Only one.  It's found in the gospel of Luke.  (Note: Only Matthew & Luke even tell of Jesus' birth.  Mark & John just jump right into his adult ministry.  So obviously the gospel writers weren't too concerned with his "early years.")  But we do have this one story.

The gist of the story is this: Jesus' family goes to Jerusalem for Passover when he's 12 years old.  On their way home, Mary & Joseph realized that Jesus wasn't with the other kids in their group procession.  He's lost!!!  Frantic, it takes them 3 days to rush back & find him in the city.  They discover him in the Temple in Jerusalem... sitting with the teachers & elders!

Jesus' response to his parents is classic.  His folks are worried sick, and practically scold him in front of everyone about the thoughtlessness of his actions.  He responds by wondering WHY they didn't know that he'd be "in my Father's house"?  Another way of translating this passage would be "to be about my Father's interests"!  It was a natural fit for Jesus.  He thought it was obvious.

How frequently can we say this?  Not simply that we spend a lot of time at church... but are we being about God's business in our lives?  Or are we focusing on our interests & pursuits?  Are we working to bring about God's realm & reign in our lives and the world?  Or are we doing whatever WE want?

It looks like even 12-year-old Jesus has a lot to teach us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Not them!?!

"The LORD is gracious & merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made."
(Psalm 145:8-9)

The book of Jonah is known primarily for the "whale" that swallowed Jonah whole (and then later spewed him out!).  Technically, it was a "great fish" that swallowed him, but that's beside the point.  Jonah was running away from God, so the great fish became God's chosen instrument at the time.

But what's not as widely known is the reason WHY Jonah was running away from God.  Yes, it was because he didn't want to do what God called him to - to go to Nineveh and preach out against it.  But why didn't he want to do that?  At the end of the book, Jonah divulges his reasoning.  And it can be traced back (at least partially) to passages like this one, from Psalm 145:8-9.  God is gracious, merciful, & compassionate.  God loves & forgives.  Period.

Why was this a problem for Jonah?  He was a prophet of God, wasn't it?  It was his JOB to call people to repentance & reconciliation with God.  Well, Jonah didn't think those wicked people of Nineveh deserved God's grace and mercy.  They were "too far gone."  But God DID forgive them, nonetheless!  After they'd repented and changed their ways, God changed his plans of destruction for them.  That's grace!

We love hearing passages like Psalm 145:8-9 when we're thinking about our own lives & what we want God to do for us.  But what about this passage being applied to others?  Especially our enemies or those who have hurt us?  God has compassion over all he has made.  Can we, too?!?

Friday, November 14, 2014

An opportunity to experience abudant life

"But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.  So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.  O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!"
(Psalm 81:11-13)

There are many times in the Bible (mostly in the Old Testament) where the writers list numerous events in their history that God has brought them through.  It's important to know (& remember!) our past.  And to be able to recognize the role that God has played along the way.  Too often we miss that part.  We fail to see just how present God is with us.  But He is there... even in our most difficult struggles & moments (especially in those!).

The other recurring theme in Scripture when it comes to recounting our past (and God's role in it) is that God desires that we turn to Him & follow his ways.  In many of the places where the Bible lists Israel's history, God says something along the lines of, "And still you didn't return to me!?!"  God can use ANYTHING that happens in our lives as an opportunity to draw us closer.  God wants to lead us in paths of righteousness.  God wants to guide & direct us.  But too often we don't let him.  So we're left, instead, to follow our own devices, ideas & plans.  Which, even in the BEST of us, aren't as good as God's plans for us.

So may we turn to God with our whole hearts.  May we see the hand of God moving through the events of our lives.  May we then listen to the LORD... and follow his counsel... and walk in his ways... sot hat we might experience life in abundance!  AMEN!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Quiet Time

[From November 5, 2014]

"When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour."
(Revelation 8:1)

Revelation is such an amazingly complex & cryptic book.  Many claim to know how to interpret it - how to see the contemporary equivalent events to verse by verse occurrences in the book.  I don't presume to know that - and I'm very leery of those who DO make that claim.  There's too much that even the best scholars don't know about Revelation to make me think otherwise.

Nevertheless, there are moments of clarity.  Like Revelation 8:1... six of the seven divine seals were opened in chapters 6 & 7... the 144K saints have been spotted... and now at the start of chapter 8, just as the opening of the 7th (and final!) seal, something very interesting happens.  SILENCE.  Thirty minutes of it.

Was this a "divine time out?"  A calm before the impending storm?  Or something more?  Could it be a response to the divine judgment that God had already unleashed upon the world?  Sometimes, when faced with the awesomeness of God, all we can do is stand in silence & awe.  Even the divine beings (angels, saints, etc.) did it.  Observed 30 minutes of silence.

Where can I take 30 minutes of silence before the glory & majesty of the LORD?  Or am I "too busy" to even do that?!?

Deep & Hidden Things

"Blessed be the name of God... He reveals deep & hidden things; he knows that is in the darkness, and light dwells with him."
(Daniel 2:22)

Danie's story is indeed an interesting one.  He was one of the many taken from Israel by King Nebuchadnezzar during the "exile."  He was hand-picked and chosen as one of the "best of the best" to serve the king in Babylon - including given 3 years of training & instruction in Babylonian language, culture & literature.  Plus, the narrator tells us that God was with him.

Then one day (or, more specifically, "night") the king has a dream.  A disturbing dream.  A dream that he wants interpreted... only he won't tell his advisers, enchanters, magicians, & diviners what it was.  "YOU tell me BOTH the dream and its interpretation," he insisted.  The wise men knew it was impossible.  They told the king so.  But he would not be swayed from his demands (and he called for the execution of all his advisers!).

Daniel saved the day.  After prayer & supplication before the Lord, God revealed to him both the dream and the interpretation.  Daniel even said that God "reveals deep & hidden things."  Which got me thinking... as much as I want to keep learning & growing in life, I usually turn to things such as books (and occasionally movies).  When was the last time I asked God for wisdom & insight?  (sigh)

PRAYER: O God, revel to me whatever wisdom & insight I need to know.  You are the Revealer of Truth.  You are the One who knows everything.  Help me to always turn to you for insight.  Give me whatever it is that I need to know.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Robed in White

"After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  They cried out in a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the lamb!'"
(Revelation 7:9-10)

Traditionally, the day after Halloween (All Hallow's Eve) is All Saints' Day.  And the day after that is All Souls' Day.  In the United Methodist Church, we observe the first Sunday in November as All Saints' Sunday.  This is when we remember those from among our church 'ohana' (family) who have died in the past year.  (Note: All Souls' Day remembers anyone who has died in the past year, even if they weren't Christians)  It's a simple, but powerful way to remember and honor the lives who have gone on to be with the Lord.

At Aiea UMC, besides singing the classic hymn, 'For All The Saints,' we also have a slideshow of photos of those who have died.  Each year I appreciate seeing the faces of our church members (and a few 'extended family') once again.  This year, my mom's picture was shown.  More than sadness, I felt a sense of love & pride.  Sort of like, "Job well done, Mom!"  My mom was, indeed, one of the saints... in the best sense of the word.  Often we think "saint" = "perfect person."  No.  All of us who love the Lord are saints.  It's a name of honor, not a result of a lifestyle.  We're honored to be called Saints of the Lord.  That was my mom.  Praise God for her, and the MANY OTHERS who now join the multitude robed in white gathered around the throne in heaven.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rev. Gaius Thede

"The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth... I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth."
(3 John 1, 4)

Every time I read 3 John 1, and I see the name "Gaius," it brings warm feelings in me... reminding me of the beloved campus minister that helped shape my life (and calling as a pastor) at the University of Hawaii - Manoa.  Rev. Gaius Thede was his name.  He's since finished his course of faith, but his witness and influence live on... both in my life and in the lives of many others.

Gaius taught me a number of things that I still hold on to tightly...
  • God is often found in asking good questions... even more than in giving the "right" answers.  He wasn't afraid to ask good questions of God, the church, and us.  It gave me permission to ask bold questions as I developed my own faith.
  • You're never too old for God to teach you something new... Back in the late 1980's (when I was in college), I remember that we wrestled together with the issue of homosexuality and the church - decades before it became a popular topic of discussion.  Gaius, who came from a fairly conservative theological tradition, was open to believing that God might indeed be wanting to teach him something new!  What a gift for me to witness.
  • The world is am amazing place - get out and see it... Every summer, Gaius & his wife, Ann, would take college students on an epic bus trip (using Bob Dylan's old tour bus!).  I was blessed to go one summer, myself.  The trip I went on was 3 weeks in California (including 10 days camping in Yosemite!).  Amazing.  Many students were able to see the country on a relatively cheap budget... with two amazing leaders!
  • Ministry is all about relationships... Gaius excelled at this.  He went out of his way to get to know the students who were a part of Wesley Foundation.  He invested himself in our lives.  He was genuinely interested in us, and in the things we were interested about.  Despite the fact that Wesley had cheap parking, Gaius was the driving force behind why people came to Wesley!
  • Community is where it's at...  Friday nights at Wesley Foundation were amazing!  Volleyball, dinner, talking story, music & some kind of program happened every week.  Alumni came to hang out with us, long after they'd finished their college studies.  The Friday night experience was really all about being around people who truly cared for & loved one another - even more than any program or content.  This is "the church" at our best!

I know that Gaius would be pleased with so many of us who knew him "walking in the truth" that he helped teach & model for us.  Thanks be to God for the saints, like Gaius, who have gone before!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Resistance is Futile!"

"And to this people you shall say: Thus says the LORD: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.  Those who stay in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but those who go out and surrender to the Chaldeans, who are besieging you, shall live and have their lives as a prize for war."
(Jeremiah 21:8-9)

In STAR TREK lore, whenever the Borg communicated with some entity/ship/race that they came up against, they always ended the transmission with: "resistance is futile!"  Was it a claim of hubris... or words of wisdom & prudence?  (Well, the Borg usually backed up that claim, so it was prudence!)

The prophet Jeremiah has a difficult message to proclaim to the people of Israel: 1) They're about to be attacked by the Chaldeans, 2) Resistance is futile!  Well, they can choose to resist if they want.  But God will not save them.  In fact, they'll die.  God wants them to surrender & go willingly into exile.

Such a hard message to hear.  Even for us today. We're taught to "stand up for ourselves," to "never give up," and to "fight the good fight."  But not here.  Not for Jeremiah.  God wants the Israelites to humbly submit and go into exile.  Why?  Well, God knew that they couldn't keep living the way they were.  They needed change.  BIG TIME!  They had a lot of character work that God needed to do in their lives.  Exile was needed.  Not resistance. 

Sometimes God needs us to submit - even to something that seems "wrong" at the time - so we can truly be changed.  Resistance is futile.  But God is faithful.

The right time

[From 10/21/14]

"But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the LORD one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day.  The LORD Is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance."
(2 Peter 3:8-9)

"I just need a little more time," we often say.  To finish a project... or get the housework done... or to read that book we've been wanting to... or to do any number of things.  Call it a busy lifestyle... or too many interests... or heck, maybe even poor time management.  But we've all been there, right?

Then author of 2 Peter reminds us that God works on a completely different time schedule.  God created time.  He has all the time in the world.  Literally.  The author of 2 Peter reminds us that to God, one day is like 1,000 years (and vice versa).  Does that mean that time doesn't matter to Him?  I don't' think so.  I think it means God sees the bigger picture!  God has patience.  God's ultimate goal is for ALL of us to come into a relationship with Him.  God won't coerce it.  He wants our willing hearts.  So God can wait for the right time.  Not our right time.  His right time.  May we wait for that, too!

It's not really about wine

[From 10/20/14]

"But I myself have spoken to you persistently, and you have not obeyed me."
(Jeremiah 35:14)

The prophet Jeremiah was the master of object lessons.  One time God called him to be a bartender at a party with the Rechabites (chapter 35).  The Rechabites traded their origins back to Jonadab ben Rechab, who didn't like the way his fellow Israelites started adopting the cultural practices of the neighboring Canaanites (including their propensity to get rip-roaring drunk & act foolish!).  So he decided not to ever own a vineyard (and, of course, not to ever drink wine).  He descendants (& followers) did the same.

So you can imagine what kind of success Jeremiah had when he tried serving drinks to the Rechabites!?!  They politely (but firmly) refused.  They even explained WHY they were refusing.  Then Jeremiah, spurred on by God, asked the Israelites why they couldn't be more like the Rechabites!?!?  "They've done a great job of following a simple command," says God.  "But I've been trying to get you to follow my commands for centuries, and you still IGNORE me!!!"  (ouch!)

We have our own habits & tendencies that we "religiously" follow, don't we?  Friday night = pizza night.  Tailgating before a football game.  Washing hands before dinner, etc.  But do we follow God's call for compassion, justice & faithfulness in our own daily walk?  How quick we are to keep traditions that we want, yet miss the really big stuff God calls us to.  (ouch.)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Don't get me started...

"Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind."
(1 Peter 3:8)

One of the more controversial passages int he Bible today is the beginning of 1 Peter 3.  It calls for wives to "accept the authority" of their husbands (KJV "be submissive").  Unfortunately, that verse, over time, has been misused & abused to justify all kinds of unhealthy (and inappropriate) behavior towards women by their husbands.

I don't really want to get into social/ethical debate over it.  Or even a theological debate.  I seriously don't.

The writer than addresses husbands (v.7-9), calling them to "show consideration" to their wives, and to "honor them."  Which is a good step, but then it's kinda ruined by calling women the "weaker sex."  I know many women who are a whole lot stronger (emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and relationally) than many men.  So I'll also leave that passage alone.

What caught my attention this morning, however, was verse 8.  The author calls BOTH men & women to have unity (spiritually), sympathy, love, tenderness, and humility.  As they say in the south, "THAT'LL PREACH!"  This is wonderful advice for everyone: men/women, married/single, young/old.  So don't get me started on the controversial (and obviously antiquated) passages of 1 Peter 3.  Instead, focus on the true "gold."  Focus on how ALL OF US should be treating each other.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


"...You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give... You shall no more be termed, 'Forsaken,' and your land shall no more be termed, 'Desolate'... but you shall be called 'My Delight Is In Her,' and your land, 'Married.'"
(Isaiah 62:3,4)

Names are powerful things.  We're all given a name at our birth (or very soon thereafter).  Sometimes that has genealogical significance.  We are named after beloved family members of the past.  Other times our parents name us with a future in mind (our son, Ezra's middle name, Tadao, means "faithful man" in Japanese).  Then we sometimes acquire names as we move through life.  Nicknames.  Pet names.  Terms of affection.  Sometimes these are funny, encouraging, or situational.  Other times they're a bit more painful (we humans can often be mean & cruel to others).

Isaiah understands the power of names.  The people of Israel had developed a painful nickname: "Forsaken."  It seemed like God had abandoned them.  Their land, once affectionately known as "The Promised Land," was now deemed "Desolate."  But God was ready to change all that!  Israel would soon, by God's grace garner a new name: "My Delight Is In Her."  The land would be known as "Married."

I think this is a word we ALL need to hear from time to time.  When we think we've been forsaken by God (or others)... Isaiah 62 blows through our souls, reminding us that God's delight is in US!  We are not forsaken, no matter how it may seem to us.  Take heart, my friends.  Have courage.  God loves us & delights in us.  What a blessing.

(A BIG 'but'...)

[From Sept. 30, 2014]

"See, the LORD's hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.  Rather, your inquiries have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he does not hear."
(Isaiah 59:1-2)

"The LORD Is merciful & gracious, slow to anger & abounding in steadfast love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us."
(Psalm 103:8-12)

These two passages were part of my daily devotional reading today.  The first reminds me that God CAN save and help us through anything.  God's hand is not too short to reach us!  BUT (and this is a big 'but'!) our actions/sins play a big role in the effectiveness of our prayers.  WE can't just live however we want and expect God to bail us out whenever we call.  Our actions have definite ramifications - both in the physical realm and in the spiritual realm.

And yet... Psalm 103 reminds met hat my sins don't trump God's grace and mercy.  He does not give us what we deserve.  He is gracious & merciful and he willingly takes our sins away from us (as far as the east is from the west... I love that phrase!).  The key, I think, is acknowledging our sins... and having a humble heart.  God will forgive.  God will cleanse.  If only we'll let him.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Like a mist...

"I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you."
(Isaiah 44:22)

Guilt & shame tend to be big stumbling blocks for many of us.  We all have parts of our past that we're not proud of.  Times we've completely blown it.  Moments we've not only let ourselves & others down, but God as well.  Often we're able to overcome these events & move forward... but occasionally we don't.  Sometimes they're so big, so life-altering, that we're never the same again.  Ever.

Yet even when we can move on from our past sins & failures, they often cling to the dark corners of our conscience.  They may not make much noise or cause many commotions.  But they're there.  And we know it.  They cast a cloud over our soul... reminding us of their secrets or deep shame.

We were not meant to live int he grip of our past sins.  As beloved children of God, we have been forgiven, cleansed, and redeemed.  Isaiah 44 uses imagery we in Hawaii are acutely aware of: clouds & mist.  I remember living in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as a high school student.  Many afternoons the clouds would roll in a a gentle, light mist would fall down upon us.  We knew it was raining, but it didn't really feel like rain at all.  It was fabulous!

God has swept away our failures like clouds blowing through the Big Island.  Our sins, which we once felt were so big, have become like a fleeting midst through the power of God's forgiveness... never to return.  Our response?  Simply to come back to God, wholeheartedly.  We've been redeemed.  We need not cower in shame & guilt any longer.  We have been set free.  Hallelujah!

Thursday, September 25, 2014


"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations."
(Isaiah 42:1)

We all love being told we're special and beloved.  It doesn't happen that frequently - even by people we know love us deeply (let's change that!).  So when we are given that gift of grace, it's such a blessing.

In the book of ISAIAH, there are four passages known as the "servant songs."  In general, Isaiah speaks of the nation of Israel as a whole - when they're at their very best.  But it can also be a prophetic voice for a specific person (or persons), like Jesus (or other significant spiritual leaders).  That's usually how the modern-day church reads them.

Yet here in chapter 42, as we encounter the very first of the servant songs, we get such a warm & accepting intro: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights."  How cool is that?!?!  What a wonderful gift to be told that by God.  That we're "chosen" & that God "delights" in us!

Thinking about the grand sweep of scripture, God does delight in us!  But not because we've done anything special or earned God's favor in any way.  We are beloved because that's how God is wired. That's how God "rolls"!  He has put his spirit within us.  We are delight-full!  Now let's live like it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


"Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power & authority before all time and now & forever. AMEN."
(Jude 24-25)

It's one of the most beautiful benedictions in all scripture.  It's also the benediction used int he United Methodist Church's Book of Worship at the end of a funeral service.  It's eloquent... poetic... comforting... & inspiring, all at the same time.

Having just seem my mother move from life to LIFE, it also takes on a deeper meaning for me now.  My mom's body was slowly failing over the past decade.  In fact, this past July she lost her balance and fell in a parking lot, breaking her nose & scraping up her face quite a bit.  Having ascended to Eternal Life now, she is no longer in danger of any more "falling."  God holds her up.

She also now "stands without blemish" in God's presence.  All physical blemishes have been removed, of course.  Whatever bodily form she has is without weakness.  But even more than that, any spiritual blemishes (sins, faults, failures, etc.) have also been erased by Jesus.  She's forgiven, loved & set free from all of that.  Thus,a s she stands before God's throne, there is much rejoicing (by her and us!).

Why? Because she has put her faith and trust in God.  My mom walked this journey of life hand-in-hand with the Great Shepherd.  I praise God for that.  AMEN.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On second thought...

"But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, & quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless."
(Titus 3:9)

I remember having a discussion in seminary about orthodoxy (right beliefs) vs. praxis (right practices).  Is it more important to believe correct doctrine... or live your life in the right way?  Of course, the easy way out is to say, "BOTH!"  But often that doesn't seem to happen.

I know a fair amount of fellow believers (both pastors and laity) who seem to go out of their way to engage in theological debates and disputes.  They relish in sharing their "orthodox beliefs" with all around them.  I tend to cringe at that prospect.  It's not that I'm afraid to say what I believe... maybe I'm just a cynic.  I tend to think that most of us have already made up our minds about most of what we believe, and arguing really don't make that much of a difference.  Few people seem to come to the faith through argument & debate.

On the other hand, I seek to put great stock in how I live out my beliefs (my praxis!).  Following Jesus' example of loving others... offering grace & forgiveness... and giving myself away to those in need... I have no problems putting a TON of energy into these endeavors.  Methodist founder, John Wesley, once said: "In the essentials (and he meant God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit & the Bible), unity.  In the non-essentials (which is everything else, including most doctrinal debates), liberty.  And in everything, charity (love)."  I agree.  How we treat one another & live out our lives makes all the difference to me. So the author of Titus' advice rings true: "avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, & quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless."

Friday, September 19, 2014


"A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.  No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed of the Lord shall walk there.  And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy & gladness, and sorry & sighing shall flee away." 
(Isaiah 35:8-10)

So much of what I think about and read these past few weeks has been filtered through the lens of my mom.  I've always loved this passage from Isaiah 35: the Holy Highway... when God's kingdom shall come to fruition.  I've loved the image of a safe way "home" for all who have been displaced, distanced, and separated from God can return to the LORD.
Today, however, I read it as the pathway my mom traveled as she journeyed from life to LIFE.

The ravenous cancer no longer attacked her.  
Her body wasn't "unclean" anymore.
She's been redeemed by the Lord.
She returned to Zion with everlasting joy upon her.
Sorrow & sighing (which I saw as the pain moved through her in waves) is finally gone.

Welcome home, Mom.


[NOTE: I've been continuing to journal, but have been VERY REMISS in updating this blog. So instead of waiting to catch up on the numerous blog entries... I'm going to start sharing what I've been writing most recently.]

{from Sept. 18, 2014}

"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in you grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and now, I'm sure, lives in you."
(2 Timothy 1:5)

My mom died on Sept. 6 this year.  I had the privilege of being with her for the final 5 days or so.  It was an amazing journey to walk through with her.  Cancer had ravaged her body, but not her mind or spirit.  She was in a LOT of pain when I first arrived (late Tuesday, Sept. 2), but once we made it to Hospice (Friday, Sept.5), that was all taken care of.  She died very peacefully... surrounded by me, my dad, and my brother, Andy, in her room.  We were watching my son Ezra's college soccer game online - cheering, laughing, talking & including her in the conversation (though by that point she couldn't respond as she was sleeping constantly).  She slipped away at halftime (at least that's when we first noticed).

Today is my first day back in Hawaii after being away for 18 days.  The scripture journaling passage today included Isaiah 25 (the Heavenly banquet when death will be no more) and 2 Timothy1, where Paul reminds Timothy of the strong faith of his mother (Eunice) and his grandmother (Lois).  How appropriate.  

Women have long been a primary means of passing down the faith in families (and congregations).  Mine was no exception.  Both my birth mom (Sylvia) and my 2nd mom (Pat) had a strong & dynamic faith.  It has shaped who I am today, I know without a doubt.

Praise God for them both.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Moms: the regular & the Grand!

[From 9-17-13]

"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you."
(2 Timothy 1:5)

So much of our faith is transferred to us from the women in our lives.  Not exclusively, of course.  But in general, woman have been "giants in the faith" over the ages.

In his 2nd letter to Timothy, Paul recognized this.  Evidently he was familiar with Timothy and his family for some time now.  He reminded Tim fo the incredible faith of his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice.  Paul even assumed that seminar faith had been transferred to Timothy as well.

When I think of my grandmothers, the one whose faith comes immediately to mind first is Grandma White.  Louisa White: grew up in Montana... was a nurse, by trade... I also knew her as a cook, gardener, fisher-woman, painter, storyteller, and Christian.  We'd go to church with her and Grandpa whenever we visited.  When I graduated from high school, she flew out to Hawaii for it.  When she asked me about my future plans, I told her I wanted to be a lawyer.  "The world needs more Christian lawyers!" she said.  She died before I knew I was going to become a pastor.  I'm grateful for her deep & abiding faith that was passed to my Dad, and also to me.

Paul also reminded Timothy of his mother, Eunice's faith.  I've been blessed with 2 moms in my life.  Sylvia gave birth to me.  She was a librarian, athlete, friend of many, leader, and Christian.  She died when I was about to enter 1st grade.  My "formative" years (0-5) were spent in her arms & shadow.  I can only assume her influences in me are great at my core.

My dad remarried a year later, and I had the privilege of growing up with Pat as my "2nd mom."  Pat was a teacher, an athlete, a leader, and had a tremendous sense of humor (still does, actually!).  She was also strong in her faith - in fact, she was actually a nun at one point (how many kids can say that about their mom!?!?).  When she met my Dad, she transitioned from Catholicism to Protestantism, and her faith remained strong (in case you were curious, she wasn't a nun when she met my dad).

So much of my own faith has been formed, shaped, and influenced by my moms... both my "regular" ones, and the "grand" ones, too.  Thanks be to God.

No Fear!

[From 9-10-13]

"...but they shall all sit under their own vines & under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth oft he LORD of hosts has spoken."
(Micah 4:4)

The crisis in Syria is at a crossroads.  Many, many Syrians have died at the hands of their own government, whether or not chemical weapons were used.  "Genocide" has been spoken of.  But the "rebels" fighting the government aren't all united, nor are they all Syrian.

The entire Middle East region of this world has been fraught with conflict, violence, fear, and devastation.  For centuries.  Today I was reading from the book of Micah, chapter 4. The famous "beating swords into plowshares" chapter.  "Neither shall they learn anymore," is also there.  But the phrase that spoke loudest to me this morning is a vision of folks being able to sit under their own trees (presumably in their yards) "and no one shall make them afraid."

What an amazing gift to give the world.  To be able to sit in your own yard and not be afraid.  Ever.  That's the kind of world God wants us to create.  Can we?  Will we?  Syria is just the start.  

"Come, Lord Jesus... help us live into this promise!  AMEN."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"No way!?!?!"

[From 9/6/13]

"Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.  The friends (brothers) who are with me greet you.  All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor's household."
(Philippians 4:21-22)

It could easily be dismissed as a "throw-away" line... something "everyone says" when finishing a letter (well, maybe a letter to a church from a Christian leader!).  "Greet every saint in Jesus Christ... All the saints greet you..." It's Paul's way of saying, "Give my love to the church.  We send ours to you!"  But he doesn't stop there.  He adds, "...especially those of the emperor's household," as those who specifically greet the believers in Philippi.

The Roman Emperor was seen (by himself and his followers) as "The Son of God."  Romans observed a pantheon of gods.  There was no limit to the numbers of deities one could worship.  The only caveat was the Emperor be held up first.  Which, as you can imagine, proved to be problematic for Christians (remember the "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" part of the 10 Commandments?).  So for members of the "emperor's household" to be believers is quite something!

Second, Paul was imprisoned (or at least in custody) when he wrote Philippians.  Nevertheless, his mission as a disciple-maker didn't wane one bit.  Even in chains, he spoke about the life-changing power of Christ - and some of the emperor's household gave their lives to Jesus!  That's amazing!  That's inspiring!  That' what being a disciple-maker can do!!  In what some may call the least-likely of situations, God used Paul to draw others to Himself.

I have so much to learn.


[From 9/5/13]

"The LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom, and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD."
(Hosea 1:2)

Relationships are hard work.  Imagine going into a new relationship knowing your partner would be unfaithful.  That was Hosea's dilemma.  God called him to marry a "promiscuous woman" (better translation than "whoredom").  Would you marry someone you KNEW would be unfaithful to you?

Why would God ask someone to do that, you ask?  Because it's a mirror of God's relationship with us!  We "forsake the LORD" over and over and over.  We're unfaithful to God. "But I haven't worshiped other gods anytime recently," you say?  Let's be honest.  We may not have entered any church/temple/shrine/holy site to worship some other god.  But we have given our heart away to things that are not of God.  The accumulation of wealth.  The desire for sex (& intimacy).  The need for accolades, recognition & praise.  The quest for personal security & a life of (relative) ease.  All of these things take us away from fully trusting God with our lives.  And we do it all the time.

Hosea's relationship with his wife, Gomer, is held up so we can see what we put God through.  But God is faithful, forgiving & loving... and God woos us back into his solitary embrace.  If only we will let him...

It's FULL of it!

[From 9/4/13]

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
(Isaiah 6:3)

Isaiah 6 is the account of Isaiah's own calling and commission as a prophet.  It begins with an amazing vision: standing in the throne room of heaven!  God is so huge, that all Isaiah sees is the hem of God's robe - and that fills the entire Temple!  Seraphs (literally "fiery ones") are heavenly beings who attend to God (angels?!?).  They're present, too!  Smoke is everywhere.  Thunder-like sounds are abundant.  And in the midst of it all, the seraphs are singing, "Holy!  Holy!  Holy! is the LORD of hosts!  The whole earth is full of His glory!" (v.3)

Had we been int he throne room of God, surely we would have said the same thing.  But we live on earth.  Nevertheless, the whole earth IS full of God's glory - if only we'll look around us.  There's beauty & majesty in all Creation: skies, mountains, rivers, lakes, oceans, trees & forests, beaches, flowers, animals, etc.  It's an amazingly beautiful world we live in.  My father was a National Park Ranger, and I'm grateful for the appreciation of nature & creation he instilled in me.

May I notice the glory of God all around me today... and every day!  AMEN.

True Rest

[From 9/3/13]

"Return, O my soul, to your rest..."
(Psalm 116:7)

I just finished reading the story (book!) of Jonah with our youth group.  When Jonah gets swallowed by the "great fish," he prays a prayer int he belly of the fish.  The prayer incorporates various psalms, including Psalm 116.  Today I read Psalm 116, and it's written by someone who was in serious trouble.  "The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress & anguish."  In the midst of this stress, gander, and impending doom, the author was saved by God.

In verse 7, there's a beautiful line: "Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you."  For some reason, that first phrase struck a chord with my heart.  "RETURN, O MY SOUL, TO YOUR REST."  In the craziness of life... in the busyness of our lives... in our struggle to get ahead vs. doing what's right... we're reminded that our souls find their true rest only in God.  And we all need rest for our (weary!) souls.

Prayer: God, help me to turn to You for rest.  My soul needs You more than I know (or admit).  Renew & refresh me, so I can lead others to that same rest & refreshment.  AMEN.

Friday, April 4, 2014

It's that important!

[From 8/29/13]

"As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
(John 17:21b)

Jesus had taught his disciples the importance of "abiding" in him (see "vine & branches," ch.15!).  Jesus modeled that, too... in his relationship with God.  Now that he's near the completion of his ministry on earth, he's praying for his followers.  He prays for abiding intimacy.  That we, as his disciples, may abide in him and in God the Father.  Why?  For our own fruitfulness, of course... but something more.  Jesus wants us to abide in him/God so OTHERS may believe that he is who he is!

As I read & reflect on this, I don't see it as a command to preach.  Or to convert others.  Or to argue theological "truths."  I see this as a call to live out of that "abiding" connection.  Live life like Jesus did.  Let others see the authenticity of our lives... and let that point them to THE ONE who came from God: Jesus.

We abide when we spend time with God.  Scripture reading/journaling, prayer, worship, study, relationships/small groups, etc.  I need to keep growing in my "abiding," so others can come to know Jesus.  It's that important.

Learning from my rose bushes

[From 8/27/13]

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.  Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more!"
(John 15:1-2)

I have 5 rose bushes in my yard.  Jody asked for them over the years.  It's the gift that keeps on giving, if you know what I mean.  I've learned a little about "growing" & "flowering" from them:
  • Watering is important.  We don't have a usable hose on that side of the house, so I either have to drag one from the front, or carry a bucket of water.  Or, just let the rain water it (which is my usual default mode - so you can imagine how (in)frequently the rose bush buds!).
  • Pruning helps focus the growth in specific areas... Branches left to grow wild may not (usually don't) flower.  So when I prune non-flowering branches, it helps focus the energy for growing on the prolific areas of the plant.
  • Some bushes are more flower-bearing than others... I don't know if it's the kind of bush or just the ones we have in our yard, but past growth (flowering) is a great indicator of future growth!
  • Fertilization helps... Bushes can't grown on their own as well as they can with nutrients!
John reminds me that my "ob" is to stay connected to Jesus as the course of my life.  He fertilizes me and keeps me connected to the life-bearing energy of God.  I must allow him to remove unwanted ("unfruitful") branches in my life, and prune me for greater growth.

Twenty-three years!?!?!

[From 8/26/13]

"By the 23rd year of King Jehoash the priests had not made any repairs on the house (of the LORD)."
(2 Kings 12:6)

Jehoash (aka "Joash") became king at age 7.  Wow.  When I was seven, I was a runny-nosed kid playing with army men, G.I. Joes, and Stretch Armstrong!  I wasn't anywhere near ready to be the ultimate monarch of an entire nation.

In reality, neither was Jehoash.  Of course he had to have people advise, inform, and govern for him.  Remember, the kid was only seven!  But 2 Kings 12 tells us one of the stipulations he made early in his reign was that the temple donations should be used to ACTUALLY REPAIR THE TEMPLE (sounds logical, right!?!).

Then we get to verse 6, which stays that TWENTY-THREE YEARS LATER, no repairs had been made.  Seriously?  Twenty-three years!?!?  Didn't Jehoash notice that the Temple was still as shabby looking as ever? Or maybe it was in pretty good condition to begin with?  But 23 years? That tells me the priests took advantage of the young king.  What did they do with the money?  Or did they just not want to do any repairs?  Either way, 23 years is a LONG time for a command to go unheeded.

It's a reminder to me as a leader - be on top of projects, endeavors, and activities that are under my authority.  Don't assume everything is being done accordingly. 

Come just as you are

[From 8/21/13]

"But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'The good LORD pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the LORD, the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary's rules of cleanness.'"
(2 Chronicles 30:18b-19)

Hezekiah was one of the few kings of Israel who did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.  He became king at age 25 and reigned for almost 3 decades. The first action he took while in office was to open up and repair/clean the temple.  What a testimony to Israel's sin & faithlessness that the temple and worship had been so neglected.  Nevertheless, Hezekiah moved ahead to cleanse.

Chapters 29-31 record the multiple steps taken to accomplish the Temple Cleansing: fixed the entrance doors, sanctified the Levites, took out all the unclean things inside, cleansed the worship items, and finished with worship & sacrifice (all of Israel!).  Then the king called everyone to observe the Passover - something that had been neglected for years.

Some came for Passover, but not all.  And among those who did come, not all had prepared themselves appropriately.  So they had to make extra sacrifices for the people who were unclean & should have been ineligible to partake.  But Hezekiah, knowing it was better for the people to come before the LORD unworthily (and unprepared) than to stay away, like they had done for so long, took action.  He offered a  beautiful prayer on behalf of the people, asking God to see the intentions of their hearts, and not the outward cleanliness (or lack thereof) of their bodies.  The narrator tells us, "The LORD heard Hezekiah, and healed the people" (30:20).

I love that.  Too many feel like they have to "get their act together" before coming to church or back to God.  So they stay away.  They miss out on God's healing, forgiveness, and restoration.  Hezekiah, the wise young kind, knew this.  He wanted the people to get right with God, so he challenged them to come, and then interceded on their behalf.  I'm impressed and moved by that leadership trait.

PRAYER: Help me, LORD, to encourage my community of faith to return to you now - not later.  Give me the heart to intercede on their behalf.  Give me compassion, grace & mercy for them.  And forgive me of all MY sins, too.  AMEN.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Eroticism in the Bible

[From 8/12/13]

"How beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful!"
(Song of Songs 4:1)

The Song of Songs (aka "Song of Solomon") is the Bible's only (erotic!) love poem.  Scholars aren't really sure when it was written, or by whom (it may even be a collection of poems).  Solomon is mentioned in the poem, probably because he was the epitome of masculinity... and had a HUGE harem (300 wives & 700 concubines!).

The poem goes back & forth between a man & a woman commenting on love.  The book starts out with "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine..."  Scholars tell us the word used for "love" here means physical lovemaking.  So right off the bat, this is high-charged erotic poetry.

I found it interesting the way the two main voices (male & female) speak.  The woman tells 3 stories (scenarios? role play?) of her and her beloved (3:8-17; 4:1-5; 4:6-11).  One compares her lover to a gazelle bounding through the mountains & hills, then has him speak words of love & seduction.  The second finds her searching the city at night for her lover.  The third pictures Solomon's wedding procession.

When the guy speaks (4:1-5) it's all about the physical appearance of his lover.  He lists all the beautiful attributes of her, using interesting comparisons to nature (your eyes are doves, hair is like a flock of goats, your 2 breasts are like fawns, etc.).  Then he describes how that makes him feel.

From what I've read about human sexuality, this plays out even today.  Author Shaunti Feldhan notes that women tend to be more story/scenario driven in how they express their sexuality, while men tend to be more visually driven.  Isn't it interesting that the one love poem in Scripture echoes this?

Why is the Song of Songs in the Bible anyway?  Over time, some have seen it as an allegory between God & humankind (a Divine Love Story).  Others have seen it as the relationship between Christ & the Church (though it was written thousands of years before Jesus!).  Those may be true.  But I also have to think God has given love & sexuality as a gift to us too.  This poem celebrates that.  For indeed, "Love(making) IS better than wine!"