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!