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.