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.