Thursday, December 10, 2015

For such a time as this...

[From December 7, 2015]

"Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, 'Do not think that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish.  Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.'"
(Esther 4:13-14)

I love the story of Esther.  It's got everything you'd want in a gripping tale: passion, debauchery, a beloved heroine, an evil villain, intrigue & drama, plus a surprising twist at the end!  It's also one of the only books in the Bible where God is never specifically mentioned or referenced.

In chapter 4, Esther has just been informed about the plot against her and her fellow Jews by the evil Haman.  Her cousin (but more like an uncle) Mordecai has sent word, but Ether has replied saying that her hands are, unfortunately, tied... and she can't do anything about it.  Then Mordecai sends one more response: "Help will come.  If not from you, from somewhere else.  But maybe you've been put in this position of influence for such a time as this!?!"

It's that last portion of Mordecai's speech that hit me (again! It always does when I read this!).  He impressed upon Ether that help will come... from somewhere (I see this as one of the testimonies to God's protection & provision, without specifically mentioning God)... but it could be that she came to her position of power & influence "for just such a time as this."

Not many of us can claim that we were a queen (or king) on our resume.  But ALL of us are in some kind of position of influence - if even just in our own families.  And there are moments in our lives - defining moments - where we have opportunities to make significant decisions.  it may feel overwhelming at the time, but it could be that God has put us in that position "for just such a time as this."

I don't know where my ministry at Palmdale UMC will go.  I just got here 5 months ago.  But I can't help but feel like I'm exactly where God needs me to be.  And who knows, maybe I'm called to lead the wonderful people of PUMC for just such a time as this?!?  A time when we've purchased land, but are in the in-between time of paying it off and building for our future.  A time when we average about 340 in worship, but have close to 700+ constituents.  A time when our Preschool is almost at capacity, and we've begun working with Christ Our Savior UMC in Quartz Hill for a new afterschool program!  I'm definitely excited to be here - for just such a time as this.

How has God brought you to a position of influence, for just such a time as this?!?

Friday, December 4, 2015


"Then Jesus said, 'There was a man who had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me."  So he divided his property between them.'"
(Luke 15:11-12)

The story of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the most famous of all of Jesus' parables.  It starts with the WANTS of a son.  He wanted his inheritance.  Only, Dad wasn't dead yet.  Minor details, right?!?  The son asked his dad for it anyway (the equivalent of saying back then, "Dad, I wish you were dead!").  He knew what he wanted: cash, freedom, opportunity!  And as soon as he got it, he was gone.

Jesus tells us the son took his wad of bills and traveled to "a distant country, where he squandered his property in dissolute living."  I think Jesus was intentionally vague with the details - so we are free to fill in the blanks with the things WE think we'd secretly want to be doing, if we had that kind of unrestrained freedom!

We don't know how long this went on.  Days?  Weeks?  Months?  Years?  Decades?  Jesus simply informs us that "when he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need."

This is where the story hit me today.  It's at this point that the son transitions from focusing on his WANTS... and moves to his NEEDS.  He needed shelter, food, water, yes... but even more he probably needed the love, security, and grace that came from his family.  He has the beginnings of this understanding... he devises a plan to return home and talk Dad into hiring him on as a servant.  No grandiose ideas of sonship... just the practical necessity of fulfilling his NEEDS.

But God... I mean, the Father... doesn't operate that way.  When the son returned home, his Father swept him up in an envelope of grace and restoration.  He returned to what he had always had before he left, just never realized!

It's easy during the month of December to focus on our WANTS.  We're making our lists and checking them twice.  But maybe instead of thinking about those WANTS, we should prayerfully discern what our NEEDS truly are (or at least ask God for whatever they might be!).  That's where God wants to provide for us.

May you (and I!) discover this timeless truth before we wander off to some "distant country."  AMEN.

Like a parents' sorrow...

[From December 3, 2015]

"And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that when they look on the one whom they've pierced, they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn."
(Zechariah 12:10)

The book of Zechariah is an Old Testament book dealing with (among other topics) the inability of the leaders of Israel to properly care for their people.  They've done a lousy job, says God.  A terrible job!  A reprehensible job!  So God is going to allow panic, disunity, and destruction.  In short, their world is about to be turned upside down.

But that's not the end of the story.  God will also strengthen the weak!  God will embolden and empower the people to return to Him with their whole heart.  They'll become an inspiration to others as they pass through the waters of distress & chaos.

And then we get to a particular verse.  12:10 notes the people will have compassion as they mourn "the one whom they've pierced."  This was written a few hundred years (or more) before Jesus.  And yet, he would be the one "pierced."  Zechariah tells us the people will mourn for him like they weep over a firstborn child.  That hearkens back to the Passover story... where God brought the Hebrews out of slavery and captivity after the 10th plague: the death of the firstborn children.  As they heard the wailing of the Egyptian parents, the Israelites moved on to safety.  To remember this properly, every year they were to observe Passover, sacrificing a lamb and sharing in a meal together.

Now Jesus became that sacrificial lamb.  Jesus was "the firstborn son" who was pierced - for our sins & transgressions.  And here, hundreds of years before Jesus, God is preparing the hearts of his people. What about us?  Do our hearts break for Jesus, as if he were our own child, pierced unto death?  Are we passionate about his life, death, and resurrection?  Not just informed.  Not just interested.  Not just aware.  But passionate?  Truly passionate?!?

PRAYER: You are my LIFE... my breath... my HOPE... my SALVATION, Oh God.  Sometimes I take that too lightly... or for granted.  Renew my passion & commitment to you.  Empower me to share that excitement with others!  AMEN.

Better than a Genie!

[From November 30, 2015]

"So I say to you, Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you..."
(Luke 11:9)

Most of us have no problem knowing what we want.  From fantasizing what we'd ask for if we ever found a Genie in a bottle ("no wishing for more wishes!") to our "wish list" on Amazon or iTunes, we know what we want.  Which might be why we have such a love/hate relationship with Luke 11:9.  It's the "Ask/Seek/Knock" passage of Jesus.

We want to believe that all we need to do is ASK God, and our requests ("prayers") will be granted.  And yet, anyone who's ever prayed knows that's not always true.  "Maybe you didn't ask for the right things" we posit... or "maybe it wasn't prayed 'in Jesus' Name'?"

(NOTE: I've always believe the Seek/Find part of this verse, by the way.  God doesn't 'hide' from us.  We wander away from God.  God spends our lifetime drawing close to us... wooing us... compelling us to turn to Him!  Once we put the effort in, God is easily "found."  So that part never bothered me.  Now, back to the troubling part...)

But I noticed something today in v.13.  Two verses prior, Jesus reminds us that we, as human parents, give our children what they need (bread, fish, eggs), not surprisingly bad & inappropriate gifts (like stones, snakes, or scorpions!).  Then he concludes with: "...How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him."

So Jesus doesn't promise that if we just ask, God will give us whatever we want (or ask for).  No, he promises we will receive.  What?  THE HOLY SPIRIT!  God's self.  The presence of God with us here and now.  SO we may want peace, healing, a job, restoration of a relationship, financial security, better housing, recognition, etc.  But God promises to give us Himself, if only we'll ask for help.  Who knows, maybe the job, healing, restoration, or money we're asking for might actually be a stone, snake or scorpion to us!?!  Our loving Father knows what we truly need... and that's His Spirit.

So go ahead and ASK, SEEK, and KNOCK, friends!  Be bold!  No Shame!  But don't be surprised if you don't get exactly what you ask for.  You might just get something infinitely better - the presence of God Himself!!!  AMEN.


[From November 23, 2015]

"The devil said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.'  Jesus answered him, 'It is written, "One does not live by bread alone."'"
(Luke 4:3-4)

The story of Jesus' wilderness temptation in Luke is a curious one. A lot of questions arise: why did the Holy Spirit lead him into the wilderness, if he was going to be tempted?  Was Jesus truly tempted (like we humans are) or did he know all along he'd prevail?  And was the 40 day period of fasting tied to the temptations (i.e. being spiritually strong and/or physically weak)?

We could also examine each individual temptation to see what it was about each one that may have been actually tempting to Jesus (stones to bread, authority over kingdoms, angelic protection).  That's a worthwhile exercise, but not where my heart connected to the text today.

What struck me was Jesus' use of Scripture.  Every time the devil challenged him to consider a temptation, Jesus responded from Scripture.  "One does not live by bread alone" (Deuteronomy 8:3).  "Worship the Lord and serve only him" (Deuteronomy 6:13).  "Do not put the Lord to the test" (Deuteronomy 6:16).  And after the second temptation, even the devil started quoting scripture (Psalm 91:11-12).  But Jesus was so grounded in God's written word, he was able to resist.

Temptations will always be a part of life.  No one is exempt form them, not even Jesus!  It's not about "being a good person" or always choosing to "do the right thing," or even "having enough self-control."  Those are all fine characteristics, of course.  Jesus had those too.  But what I learn from this story is that Jesus' grounded in Scripture was his bedrock.  That gave him the framework to make decisions for himself and his life.

I've said over and over how important Scripture Journaling has been to my life this past decade or so.  I believe it!  The challenge, of course, is putting the time into reading, studying, and reflecting on it... so that it can become MY BEDROCK and foundation, just like it was for Jesus!

PRAYER: Lord, may Your Words of LIFE in Scripture be my anchor.  May I have the discipline to spend time with you on a regular basis. I want to walk in your truth every day.

A Response

[From November 19, 2015]

"Then the angel showed me the river of water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.  On either side of the river is the tree of life with its 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."
(Revelation 22:1-2)

It's been a rough week for the world.  The bombing of Muslims by ISIS in Lebanon last Thursday... the Paris ISIS attacks on Friday... Retaliation attacks & air strikes... another Boko Harum massacre in Nigeria... We are a world torn apart by violence, war & hatred.

Some people co-opt elements of their faith to promote hatred & violence.  I pray that those in the Christian church are not in that camp.  The end of Revelation (the very last book in the Bible) is all about peace, healing, and life.  Not death & destruction.

There's a RIVER OF LIFE, flowing through the heavenly city.  There's a TREE OF LIFE in the middle of the city... and the leaves of the tree are for the HEALING of the nations.  Healing, life, grace... that's what's we're about.  In the aftermath of the ISIS attacks, may we continue to sow peace, hope and love.  For that is of God!

More Valuable than Gold

[From November 18, 2015]

"I saw the temple in the city, for its temple is the LORD God the Almighty and the Lamb."
(Revelation 21:22)

One of the characteristics that people think of when they think of heaven (besides fat little angels playing harps on clouds) is streets of gold.  That's actually biblical (Rev.21:21), as John had a vision of heaven.  But more than that, or the pearls at every one of the 12 gates (which is also biblical - same verse)... the part that most intrigued me was v.22, which says heaven has no central worship space.  No temple.  No church.  No gathering space for people to come together to connect to God.

At first this is quite curious.  We Christians have been taught to make worship (at a church) a priority.  We are called to gather together in community to be the body of Christ.  But John's vision of heaven has no temple - no central worship space where we can be "the body."  Why?  "For its temple is the LORD GOD the Almighty and the Lamb."  There is no need to come to one place, for God is there!  Everywhere!  God's presence fills "the new Jerusalem."

Imagine a time when the presence of God is so powerful that you feel and experience it all the time.  No hatred.  No violence.  No pain.  Just peace, grace, hope, joy, and love forever.  THAT'S something even more valuable than streets of gold!  May we work towards that being a reality.  AMEN.

Monday, November 23, 2015

James Taylor & Jesus

[From November 17, 2015]

"The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."
(Psalm 145:18)

James Taylor sang a song titled, 'You've Got A Friend."  The chorus says:
You just call on my 
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running
To see you again
Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there
You've got a friend
We long for friends like that. For true intimacy and deep love and commitment.  If we're fortunate, our spouses fill this role.  So do a few close friends we acquire over our lifetime.  But God also makes this promise to us.

God is near to us all the time.  The God who created us... gifted us... redeemed us... and calls us to become more and more like Him.  He longs to be in intimate relationship with us - if only we'll seek Him.  He'll be a real and present help to "all who call on him in truth."  The challenge (at least for me) is to do this on a daily basis - not just when I think I'm in need.  I'm actually in need of God EVERY day... if the truth be told.  So come, Lord, Jesus.  Be near me!

Heart Replacement Surgery

[From Nov. 16, 2015]

"I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
(Ezekiel 36:35-26)

After judgment & exile, the people of Israel (& Judah) will be restored by the LORD.  Ezekiel chapters 36-37 are filled with wonderful images of restoration.  It begins with a baptism of sorts: a cleansing by water of all the 'uncleanness of idols.'  The people, for centuries, looked to things other than God for sustenance and inspiration.  That will change.

God notes that it's a HEART problem.  The people have a "heart of stone."  We think of that in terms of being uncaring & unfeeling.  God sees it as a heart that doesn't seek him.  It's kind of interesting to think that means it's incapable of functioning the way a heart should.  A stone heart is no good.  But God will replace it with "a heart of flesh."  A heart that works!  It pumps and feels and fills the rest of the body with life.  WHY?  Because it's connected to the LORD and seeks to follow his ways. 

We have "hearts of flesh" when we read God's word.  When we align our lives (and actions) with God's will for us.  I want a heart of flesh, not stone.  I want to truly live... and to empower my congregation to do the same.

Friday, November 6, 2015


"And the 5th angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit... Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth... they have as King over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he's called Apollyon."
(Revelation 9:1,3,11)

In Revelation 9, some kind of heavenly being ('star') falls from heaven to earth and unleashes havoc in the form of mutant locusts.  Any farmer knows what normal locusts can do to crops.  These, however, are diabolical.  Chaos & damage ensue.  The author tells us the name of their king: Abaddon (which means "Destruction" in Hebrew) or Apollyon (which means "Destroyer" in Greek).

We don't know if this "fallen star" is Satan, or some other malevolent being.  What captured my interest this morning was the NAMES of the king: Destroyer/Destruction.  And the locusts bear witness to this truth.  I started thinking about the difference between that name and the "name above all names."  Jesus brings life, hope, grace & restoration.  This enemy simply brings destruction.

Look around.  Where do we see destruction?  Violence & wars.  Hatred & intolerance.  Homelessness.  Broken marriages & families.  Unforgivenss.  Bitterness.  Abuse.  Slavery & trafficking.  Destruction is everywhere.  BUT THAT IS NOT OF GOD!  I want to be an agent of life & life, O Lord.  Help me to walk in your ways.  Bring healing to those who have experienced destruction in their lives.  AMEN.

"We're not worthy!"

[From November 2, 2015]

"...And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?'  And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it.  And I began to weep bitterly...'"
(Revelation 5:2-4a)

Dana Carvey & Mike Meyers' "WAYNE'S WORLD" creation on Saturday Night Live used to have a bit that became a cultural expression.  Whenever they'd interview a famous celebrity (usually a musician), they'd extend their arms and bow down in reverence saying, "We're not worthy!  We're not worthy!"  People all across the US incorporated it into our regular vernacular.

That's what John felt like in Revelation 5.  A great scroll is available, but no one (in heaven or earth) is worthy to open it and read it.  No one, that is, except Jesus (the "Lion of the Tribe of Judah" and "the root of David").  He is the Lamb who was slain for the salvation of the world (all these expressions are used in chapter 5).

I wonder if we've lost this sense of God's holiness and reverence?  We pride ourselves in our accomplishments and endeavors.  But really, none of us are worthy on our own.  We can do great things, of course.  But salvation can only come as GRACE - as a gift.  We can't earn it.  So why not, instead, bow down with reverence & humility before the King?  (Works for me!)


[From Oct. 26, 2015]

"The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah... that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery.  And they obeyed."
(Jeremiah 34:8-10a)

As the Babylonians are bearing down on the nation of Israel, Jeremiah continues to share Gods' word with the people.  He tells the king unequivocally that the city of Jerusalem will fall.  God has ordained it.  But the king himself will not be killed.  As the armies are engaging in battle, another message comes - this time to all the people: release your Hebrew slaves.  Now!  "And they obeyed," the author tells us.  For a time.  "But afterward they turned around and took back the male and female salves they had set free" (v.11).

How curious.  God called them to set the slaves free (Judean only.  God didn't say anything about he foreign slaves, if there were those.).  They did it (praise God!).  Then they recanted.  WHY?  I'm guessing it was because the immediate threat had passed.  I don't know how much time transpired between verses 10 and 11 (weeks? months? years?)... but over time, they reverted to enslaving humans again.  (NOTE: God then instituted a new 7-year rule: that all Hebrews release all slaves every 7 years.  God must've known we'd revert to sinful behavior over time!)

Palmdale UMC has a passion to free modern-day slaves.  We're part of a network of churches and organizations in the Antelope Valley that are working to help bring awareness of human trafficking AND also engage in efforts to combat slavery.  It's an age-old human predilection: to enslave others. 

It's very sad.  Our human condition leans toward sin.  God seeks to lure us away from this devastating practice, but we seem to persist.

LORD, have mercy on us.  May we all work to remove slavery from our society (and lives).  May we value all human lives equally.  May we work to bring freedom to those enslaved.  And may we know that this is YOUR HEART'S DESIRE, too!  AMEN.

Confronting Country

[From Oct. 20, 2015]

"Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, 'This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city...'"
(Jeremiah 26:11)

We Americans are a proud people!  We love our country.  "Land of the free and home of the brave!"  Our forefathers (and foremothers!) fought and died so that we might have true freedom.  It's really one of the things that makes this country great.  And yet, it's almost seen as sacreligious today to utter a word against our country.

Jeremiah lived at a time when his country (Judah, aka "Israel") was going through a difficult transition.  Their glory days were past.  They were about to be attacked by the Babylonians.  It didn't take a rocket scientist to see those signs.  But many were preaching that it would be ok.  God would save them.  Fear not!  Those are comforting words.  But they weren't true.  Jeremiah knew God's plan was to allow the Babylonians to attack (and conquer) Judah.  He also knew the people had failed to follow the LORD and align their lives with His.  So he spoke out against his country, and it almost got him killed.  But it was the truth.

This story reminds me to be courageous in speaking the truth - even it it upsets some because it questions our country's behavior.  We are called to follow God's call on our lives and to obey the laws of the nation we live in.  But sometimes those two come in conflict.  We need to speak up (and speak out) when that happens.

LORD, I love my country!  Thank you for all who have gone before to make this nation great.  And I want to be part of making us great for generations to come.  So help em to speak up whenever I sense a divergence from the path you're calling me.  But give me the humility and wisdom to discern your truth, not simply espouse my personal beliefs.  AMEN.

Do not "argue" the faith

[From Oct. 16, 2015]

"Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence."
(1 Peter 3:15b-16)

It's been said that no one has ever come to the faith (ie. become a Christian) because of an argument.  Within some Christian communities, apologetics is very popular: being able to argue for and defend the faith.  That's never really been my passion.  I actually shy away from engaging in "theological and religious debates."

But the author of 1 Peter calls us to be ready to share with anyone why we have hope in Christ.  That seems reasonable.  The author doesn't encourage folks to seek out potential converts (or combatants)... but rather to simply be ready to share, should you be asked.  "Yet do it with gentleness and reverence."  Don't hit people over the head with your theology.  Don't speak judgment and condemnation to those who aren't "of the same mind."  Gently share why Jesus is your hope and salvation.

I probably can do more when it comes to sharing my faith (hope!) outside of church contexts.  Help me, God, overcome my hesitation by being eager to share my hope in you, whenever asked.  And may I continue to do so with gentleness and reverence.

Boxer shorts for Jesus!

[From Oct. 15, 2015]

"Thus says the LORD: Just so I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem."
(Jeremiah 13:9)

What an interesting "object lesson" God gives Jeremiah.  He's told to buy a loincloth, wear it, then hide it (bury it) in the rocks by the Euphrates.  Then many days later, God calls him to go back and get it... and of course, it's ruined.  "For as the loincloth clings to one's loins," says God, "So I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to cling to me... but they would not listen."  (v.11)

The role of a loin cloth is to cover one's privates.  It's all about modesty, decorum, civility.  Think of it as the ancient equivalent of a good pair of boxer shorts.  But if your boxers don't cling to your legs... if they flap open & "leave nothing to the imagination," then they're practically useless.

We were made to 'cling' to God... not 'do our own thing' and 'flap this way or that.'  It's pride that gets in our way.  We want to do what we want to do - and it often runs counter to 'clinging to God.'  So, like a loincloth left out int he elements, this will eventually lead to our own ruin.

Self-confidence is one of my strengths.  But I need to be careful it doesn't bleed into pride, thinking I can lead my church on my own strength, apart from God.  That kind of pride can lead to ineffective ministry and ruin.  I want to be solid pair of boxer shorts for Jesus!

Let God in!

[From Oct. 13, 2015]

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doing, and let me dwell with you in this place.  Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the Temple of the LORD...'"
(Jeremiah 7:3-4)

If anything or anyone is associated with a church, it's got to be GOD, right?!?!  So how surprising/shocking to read in Jeremiah 7 and hear God say he might be present in church (temple) IF (and only if!) the people change their actions.  It's not enough to just "come to church."  Sure, houses of worship can be divine experiences, but we shouldn't take for granted God's presence.  As if all we have to do is enter the church and God will be there - waiting on our beck and call.

God tells the people in Jeremiah that they need to start living right.  Later, in verses 5-7, God identifies how that should look: act justly, don't oppress foreigners or orphans or widows, don't kill innocent people, don't wander after other gods... all of those actions hurt those who perpetuate them.  And God wants to distance himself from actions like that.

So, as a pastor of a church, I shouldn't just assume God will always be present at church.  I need to actively pursue righteous living!  My role is to help usher people into God's presence.  How tragic if my personal practices actually got in the way of others coming to experience God!  I want to let God in to church!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Ancient Paths

"Thus says the LORD, stand at the crossroads, and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.  But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'"
(Jeremiah 6:16)

I'm a new resident to the Antelope Valley.  I'm really enjoying living in Southern California.  There's so much to do and so many places to go.  I usually just use the GPS service on my iPhone when it comes to getting around.  I type in the location and follow Siri's advice on which route to travel.  Nine times out of 10 I opt for the quickest route.

But occasionally I choose an alternate journey.  Not the fastest... maybe a more scenic drive.  Or even better, someone who lives here will give me directional advice and I"ll take a route I'd ever have considered.  That's how Jack took me to Tehachapi.  That's how we returned from Santa Clarita (via the Bouquet Canyon Rd.). 

Jeremiah was preparing the people of Judah for their impending exile.  The people had forsaken God.  They'd neglected his commands.  They worried only about themselves, never caring for others.  So God was going to disrupt their lives to get their attention.

Jeremiah uses an incredible metaphor to remind the people what their game plan should be: "stand at the crossroads, and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."  So obvious, yet we often ignore this sage advice.

Guys (like me) get a bad rap for not wanting to ask for directions.  We'll figure it out ourselves, thank you very much.  But we often miss opportunities this way. Same with the people of Judah.  They had a chance to listen to the prophets, to follow the advice of hte forefathers and foremothers.  But they didn't. And they suffered.

I want to find rest for my soul.  I want to walk in the "ancient paths".  I want to journey along the good ways.   So I turn to the Holy Scriptures.  I read the Bible and meditate on the wisdom found therein.  I listen to the advice of elders, and those men & women of faith who've "gone before" me.  I want to ask for directions!

Keep me humble & open, LORD.  Direct my heart to ask for directions and to seek the ancient paths for my life.  Thank you for coming alive to me in scripture reading.  AMEN!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

No money? No problem.

"Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, 'I will never leave you or forsake you.'"
(Hebrews 13:5)

There's a famous passage in the Bible that says "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).  Most of us know that.  Money is important, but it's not the pinnacle of life.  We don't need to make it our primary focus, the end-all and be-all of our existence.

Today I was reading Hebrews 13, and verse 5 starts off with that familiar reprise: "Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have."  Okay.  Check.  Got it.  But then the author added one more caveat that caught me off guard: "... for he has said, 'I will never leave you or forsake you.'"  It's not just that when we fall in love (lust?) with money that bad things can happen.  It's not just hat pining for things we don't have gets us in trouble.  No.  Hebrews tells us that we don't need to "go all in" on acquiring money and things because Jesus is always with us.  He is our everything!  He can sustain us, no matter what our bank account says.  He, not money, can provide for our every need.

What a good word for me to hear right now.  I've never really been inclined to let my heart drift towards the love of money.  (I do, however, frequent in search of "great deals" on sale... often for things that I don't really "need.")  But we're still waiting for Jody to find a job here in the Antelope Valley.  She's decided not to commute the 1+ hour trek "down below" to where there are many more opportunities.  She wants to stay close to the church so she can be involved in the total life of our faith community.  But we're at the point (3+ months into this new appointment in California) that our savings has just about run out.

But instead of worrying about money, I'm reminded this morning that God will never leave us or forsake us.  So we'll hang tight and wait patiently on the LORD to provide.  Because that will be enough.  Amen & Amen!

Spring Cleaning

[From Oct. 6, 2015]

"The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, 'I have found the book of the Law in the house of the LORD.'  When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it."
(2 Kings 22:8)

Josiah became king when he was a mere 8 years old.  He had a good mom, he loved the LORD, and he was one of the few kings of Judah who "did what was right in the sight of the LORD."

When he turned 18, he instructed his temple secretary (Shaphan) to have the high priest (Hilkiah) open the temple donation box and start repairs.  (I wonder if this was the first time in his 10-year reign that he'd suggested that be done?!?)  In the course of the repair project, Hilkiah found a book and gave it to Shaphan.  The author doesn't say if Hilkiah read the book (you'd like to think a high priest would open it and see what it was, right?!?), but it does say that's just what Shaphan did!  The temple secretary took the time to find out what it was, and everything changed.  He read it out loud to the king, who realized this was a holy book of God's instructions (probably Deuteronomy), and his people for centuries had been neglecting its message.  Massive reform followed and Judah returned to seeking the LORD.

So who was the catalyst for this amazing revival in Israel?  Josiah, who initiated the repair project request?  Hilkiah, who found the lost book? Shaphan, who read it, understood it, and then communicated it in its entirety to the king?  It's probably just best to credit God for prompting the hearts of all involved.  However, this amazing story tells me a number of things about life and faith:
  • Everything (even the church) can use a good cleaning out every now and then...
  • Antiques (ie. old books) are only valuable if you take the time to read them and understand what they are...
  • God's word (the Bible) is powerful and lifesaving... if only we'll act on what we read there...
  • It's never too late to repent, reform, and return to the Lord!
Thank you God for this amazing story of cleansing, correction, renewal & revival.  Please don't let my life (or church) be so "cluttered" that I lose sight of what's truly important.  Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me!

A calming Presence

[From Oct. 2, 2015]

"Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress; he made the storm be still and the waves of the sea were hushed."
(Psalm 107:28-29)
Psalm 107 speaks about God restoring the Israelite exiles from Babylonian captivity.  The psalmist uses a variety of metaphors to illustrate this.  One deals with ocean imagery.  The people are compared to sea merchants doing business via shipping.  God is the one who orchestrates the wind, waves and the "at sea" experience.  But the sea is often treacherous and overwhelming.  The people got in "over their head" and cried out to the God.  God heard their cry, "brought them out of their distress," and calmed the storm.

The metaphor works fine.  But my heart & mind went straight to Jesus... and his experience with the disciples out on the Sea of Galilee... caught in the storm... Jesus calmed the sea and quieted the waves there, the true embodiment of Emmanuel: God with us!  It's just another reminder to me that God not only hears my cries, but can "calm the storms" of my life - if only I'll look to Him (and not just try to calm them on my own strength/insight).

Thank you, LORD, for your constant presence in my life - especially during the storms.  Calm and quiet the drama so I can focus more on you.  Amen.


[From Oct.1, 2015]

"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; for the LORD delights in you... For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you."
(Isaiah 62:4-5)

Weddings are occasions for great joy!  Just about everyone loves going to a wedding.  The bride always looks amazing.  She's surrounded by her closest friends.  The groom is so excited to see his bride.  There's a solemn covenant made before God and others.  There's music, dancing, food, fun... it's simply a fabulous event!

Isaiah 62 tells us that no matter how we think God feels about us (and sometimes we feel forsaken & abandoned by God because of life's circumstances), the TRUTH is that God loves and delights in us!  And Isaiah uses wedding imagery to talk about that love and commitment on God's part!  God rejoices in us, like a bridegroom over a bride!

What a powerful metaphor.  God has made an eternal commitment to us - to love, care for, and be in relationship with us.  Not because God has to... but because God WANTS to!  How amazing is that?

Thank you, Lord, for the many ways you love and delight in us.  Help me never to forget that.  And help me to honor the commitment you've made to me, by the way I live my life in relationship to you!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It's not the Emerald City

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
(Hebrews 4:15-16)

The Wizard of Oz is an iconic story (and film!).  Dorthy Gale, from Kansas, is transported to the "colorful" land of Oz via tornado.  In order to get back home, she must journey to see the Great & Powerful Wizard of Oz.  Along the way she picks up 3 friends (Scarecrow, Tinman & Lion), and 1 enemy (the Wicked Witch of the West).

One of the scenes that always got me was when Dorothy & Co. first meets the Wizard.  The throne room was huge: high walls, tall ceilings, booming sound system, and a Jumbotronlike floating head!  So intimidating!!! That's the effect that many rulers, leaders, and people in power desire.  But not Jesus.

Jesus chose to embody humanity.  Rather than settle for a floating green head (and great sound system), Jesus came with skin on him... flesh & blood... fully human.  He knows what it's like for us.  He's been through life on earth like we have.  Therefore, says the writer of Hebrews, we can approach the "throne of grace" with boldness!  God will not send us off on some quest to prove our worth (like bringing back the Wicked Witch's broomstick!).  No, He gives us mercy & grace to help in time of need.  So I need not be afraid of coming to God for ANYTHING.  Neither should you!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why so afraid?!?

"I, I am he who comforts you; why then are you afraid of a mere mortal who must die... You have forgotten the LORD, your Maker..."
(Isaiah 51:12-13)

God's people were going through a difficult time when Isaiah was a prophet.  They were being besieged by the mighty Babylonian army.  They would soon be defeated, captured, and carried away from their homeland.  It was a time of fear & uncertainty for the Hebrew people. 

But God knew there was a greater threat to his people: they had forgotten God.  More than the enemy army lying outside their city walls, the people had neglected their relationship with their Creator... and that posed a far greater danger.  "Why are you afraid of a mere mortal," asks the LORD.  "You have forgotten your Maker... I am he who comforts you!"

We all have fears, worries & uncertainties in this life.  That's part of being human.  The question for people of faith is: will we allow those fears, worries & uncertainties to consume us?  Jobs, health, children, relationships, finances, past hurts, etc... the list can go on and on.  But GOD IS THE ONE WHO COMFORTS US!  Why are we overcome with fear?  Let us turn back to the LORD and trust in His grace & mercy.

We may not know where life will take us, & what experiences we'll have to endure.  But we don't have to live in a constant state of fear, worry & dread.  No matter what may come, God is our comforter.  God loves us, cares for us, and will work to bring about good in our lives.  Thanks be to God!  AMEN.

Learning from the Shepherd

[From 9/25/15]

"He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep."
 (Isaiah 40:11)

The author of Isaiah, in chapter 40, is bringing a word of encouragement & hope to a people oppressed and ragged.  The Hebrew people had been scattered in exile and taken to far-off lands (Babylon).  But God has not forgotten them. God will raise up a Savior... a Messiah... a Shepherd who will guide the people to safety.  The author uses shepherding imagery in verse 11, and the Savior will have 3 clear areas of focus:
  • "feed his flock"... We all need the spiritual nourishment that only God can provide.  We're great about finding our daily physical food (where shall we eat!?!?)... but often not so good for looking for our daily spiritual food.  God can provide!
  • "gather his lambs in his arms"... There's a special place in God's heart (and kingdom!) prepared for the children.  We all need to make sure our children are cared for & protected.  That is God's will for the world!
  • "gently lead the mother sheep"... I'm guessing mother sheep are somewhat like mother humans.  They both deeply love their children.  They make sacrifices for them.  This tells me God is about supporting & caring for families (especially moms & other care-givers).  And God if God is gentle with them, then so should we be!
LORD, thank you for your guidance, your nourishment, and the opportunity to follow your example in caring for others!  AMEN.

Cries & Sighs...

[From 9/24/15]

"Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 'Turn back, and say to Hezekiah prince of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; indeed, I will heal you...'"
(2 Kings 20:4-5a)

King Hezekiah, who had carried out such great spiritual reform in Israel, became sick to the point of death.  The prophet Isaiah came to see him & told him he'd soon die.  The King prayed for healing & wept while Isaiah was leaving.  But God gave a NEW word to Isaiah: the King would live another 15 years!  God had heard his prayer & seen his tears.

Many of us believe in the power of prayer.  This passage reinforces that belief.  But I love that God acknowledges seeing Hezekiah's tears.  It's not the first time in scripture.  I can immediately think of Hagar's tears in the wilderness that God heard (& Ishmael's, too!). 

God hears our prayers, yes.  But He also sees our suffering.  He hears our cries & sighs of sorrow.  God cares.  God loves.  God can heal.  We don't know why God doesn't heal everybody, but it's still comforting to me to know that God can.  May I, too, see the tears of those around me.  And may it move me like it moves God.

Good advice

[From 9/22/15]

"But the people were silent & answered him not a word, for the king's command was, 'No not answer him.'"
(2 Kings 18:36)

Sometime's it's simply best to keep your mouth shut!  In 2 Kings 18, the Assyrian army is outside the walls of Jerusalem.  The high official, the Rabshakeh, is spewing propaganda & hate speech upon the Israelites (who had come out in droves at the city's walls to watch).  He tells them how weak & decimated they are.  How they won't stand a chance vs. the mighty Assyrian army.  How they shouldn't believe their king when he says, "God will protect us!"  Has any nation's gods saved them from the Assyrian onslaught yet?  NO!  Surrender now & their lives will be spared.

Can you imagine a foreign power coming to the US and "talking smack" like that?  We Americans are a proud people.  We couldn't just stand by and listen to someone insult our great nation, could we?

And yet, God had a plan.  A plan that did not involve retaliation at that time.  God indeed would provide.  I don't know if King Hezekiah knew that... or simply trusted in God's provision.  But he told the people to say NOTHING to the Rabhsakeh.  Don't get sucked in to his name-calling and trash talking.  Don't let your emotions get the better of you.  Say nothing. 

And that's just what they did.

In the iconic Disney film, BAMBI... it's Flower (the skunk) who tells Bambi what his mother always says, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!"  That's great advice.  Whether it's to prevent us from saying something we'll regret... or preventing us from degrading ourselves with ugly speech... or a larger vision to trust God despite what the situation looks like... Flower's mom's advice is solid even today.

"But the people were silent & answered him not a word."

Lord, I try to control my tongue, but don't always succeed.  Help me to have better self-control.  Let my words bring life, hope & grace to others.  When I'm feeling angry or overwhelmed (or on the road driving!), let me be silent & trust in you.  AMEN.

Monday, September 21, 2015


"Then (the Levites) went inside to King Hezekiah and said, 'We have cleansed all of the house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the table for the rows of bread and all its utensils.  All the utensils that King Ahaz repudiated during his reign when he was faithless, we have made ready & sanctified; see they are in front of the altar of the LORD."
(2 Chronicles 29:18-19)

I love the story of King Hezekiah.  He was 25 years old when he assume the throne.  He reigned for 29 years.  One of his first actions as King was to clean out the temple and get it back in working order.  Over the years it had been neglected.  Items had been brought inside which were inappropriate.  It was dirty, abandoned, and nothing like what God had intended it to be.

For 2+ weeks the Levites cleaned it.  They got it back to its original splendor.  And one of the projects they tackled was restoring the worship utensils.  These are items used in worship (surrounding the altar sacrifices, sacraments, etc.).  Evidently a prior king (Ahaz) had intentionally misused & abused the utensils - not using them for the purposes originally intended.  But instead of throwing them away and ordering a new set from, the Levites cleaned, consecrated, and made them new again!

As I was reading today, I felt drawn to this detail.  It was as if God was reminding me that there are many people just like these utensils.  People who were created to be instruments of joy, praise & worship... but instead have been abused, misused, and neglected over the years (sometimes by the church itself!).  They feel unclean & unworthy.  But they are not!!!  They simply need to be restored & renewed.  And that's something God specializes in!

I'm going to be embarking on a sermon planning day soon.  I need to solidify my 2016 preaching schedule.  I've been praying for insight & inspiration as to what to preach/teach about here at my new appointment in Palmdale.  Maybe this is somehting I need to give more thought to: redemption & restoration.  

Speak to me, Lord... I'm listening!

Pause for Concern

[From 9/19]

"For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than loves of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.  Avoid them."
(2 Timothy 3:2-5)

Paul is on his soapbox here in 2 Timothy 3... listing many different kinds of people to avoid.  Some are obvious (abusive, unholy, inhuman, brutes, slanderers, haters of good, treacherous, etc.).  Others cause me to self-reflect critically (lovers of themselves & money, arrogant, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, etc.).  And ONE causes me deep concern: "holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power."  Wow.

What are the "outward forms of godliness" in Christianity?
  • prayer
  • worship
  • giving/stewardship
  • scripture reading
  • acts of compassion
These are just a few, of course.  However, they are acts that ALL of us are called to be about as followers of Jesus.  And as a pastor, they're also activities that I strongly encourage others to do.  But do I truly believe in their power?  Or am I sometimes going through the motions?  Wow.  Forgive me, LORD.  Renew me.  Recenter me.  Release me to believe fully!

New EVERY morning!

[From 8/27]

"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

What a testimony!  TO know that God's love & mercy is abundant, constant, and everlasting... it's new every morning!  What a gift!  What a faithful God!

There was a time in Israel's history when they didn't know if they'd survive.  They'd just been released from slavery in Egypt.  God had done mighty & amazing things and they were suddenly free.  but that freedom led them tot he desert, where water & food seemed scarce.  When they complained to Moses (and to God!), God gave them a gift: manna.  Daily food.  God gave one day's supply at a time.  No saving.  No hoarding.  Just enough for the day (anything extra would spoil!).  And they got a double share for the weekend (which somehow didn't spoil!).  Every new morning there was a supply of manna waiting.  It never ran out.  It supplied their needs until they entered the Promised Land and could farm & raise crops on their own.

We often get worried about things/circumstances/challenges beyond our control.  In the midst of change (new move, job, church, community, lifestyle, etc.), it's tempting to worry or become distressed.  But God's steadfast love & mercy endures.  Every new day a new supply comes to us.  Every day.  God's faithfulness is great, indeed!  So we can stop worrying.  Stop fearing.  Stop stressing.  Because God's love & mercy is as steady as each new day.

Thank you, Lord, for your great faithfulness!  You have given me all that I need for life, love & joy.  Create in me a heart that recognizes, embraces, and celebrates that daily faithfulness.  AMEN!

It's unsettling. Seriously!

[From 8/26]

"All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth... When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage."
(Luke 4:22, 28)

Jesus, fresh off his baptism in the wilderness and subsequent temptation, starts his ministry of preaching & teaching.  He heads home to Nazareth - the place he grew up.  He's invited to read from the scroll of Isaiah.  He locates the passage he wants to read & beings: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives & recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  Then he sat down.  "Today," he said, "this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

WOW!  Could it be the time of the LORD has finally come, they must have been wondering?  "All spoke well of him," Luke tells us.  Awesome.  A sermon received well.  Every pastor likes to hear praise.  But then Jesus goes further.  He reminds them of the adage that no prophets are accepted in their hometown.  Why?  People know them too well, maybe.  They dismiss the prophetic words.  Then Jesus recalls 2 times in scripture where God reached out to bless non-Jews.  And this, in light of the Isaiah passage Jesus read, is too much.  They begin to see Jesus' words of good news, recovery & freedom may not be meant only for them... but also for others... outsiders!  And it angers them greatly.  "All in the synagogue were filled with rage."  They even tried throwing him off a cliff!

I sure enjoy a good post-sermon compliment.  I love it when people "speak well of me," especially after preaching.  But this passage from Luke reminds me not to get too excited about the positive compliments of those who hear me preach.  We all love to hear words, teachings & messages that encourage & strengthen us.  I try to do that often.  But the word of God is also sharp as a double-edged sword!  It should convict, correct, and challenge us.  That's uncomfortable.  That doesn't always lead to "people speaking well" of me.

Wen people realize the power of the Gospel, it's often unsettling.  That's ok.  That's important.  This passage reminds me not to get too worked up over those who are "filled with rage" over my preaching, either.  Let God work in the hearts & minds of the people who encounter His word.  Stay faithful to the task of preaching.  Don't focus on the immediate response of the crowd.  And it will all fall into place.

That's a difficult lesson for preachers like me who like to be liked.  How about you?

Help amidst uncertainty

[From 8/25]

"You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day..."
(Psalm 91:5)

The psalmist is one who evidently has felt attacked & overwhelmed by the circumstances around him/her.  Or s/he knows that GOD is the one who shelters, covers, & protects us, and thus is passing that info on to others... in terms of disease (deadly pestilence), in war (the arrows that fly by day), and in all things... including that which you cannot see or know because of the darkness.

Emily left for college last week.  Jody took her over to Abilene, TX.  They had 3 nights together at friends' homes... then she moved into the dorm.  The first 2 nights in her dorm she called me around 11pm PST (1am her time).  She could'nt sleep.  Her stomach was in knots.  Was it food related?  Probably not (though we talked about options there).  She thinks it was partly due to the enormity of this next phase of her life.  So I sat up and talked with her... prayed with her... and gave her some ideas about taking her mind off things.  We hung up & I kept praying for her.  Eventually, she fell asleep (she told me later).  In the end, the best thing I could tell her was to turn it over to God.  Fear not.  God is with you... even in new & uncertain surroundings.

Thank you, LORD, for watching over us... especially in the dark times of our lives.  Thank you for loving Emily and being with her during this new season of her life.  Be her rock & foundation.  Help her to turn to you first for any need she may have.  Amen.

I Might Be Wrong

[From Aug. 20, 2015]

"Then Zedekiah son of Chenaanah came up to Micaiah, slapped him on the cheek, and said, 'Which way did the spirit of the LORD pass from me to speak to you?'  Micaiah replied, 'You will find out on that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber.'"
(1 Kings 22:24-25)

King Ahab had an interesting relationship with the prophets of God.  For much of his reign, he did not follow the ways of the LORD.  Nevertheless, he continued to "consult" his spiritual advisers.  However, when a king is known for imprisoning (or even killing) those who oppose or contradict him, soon very few oppose or contradict.

Enter Micaiah: prophet of God.  Ahab doesn't really like him.  He tells King Jehoshaphat of Judah why: "I hate him; he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster" (v.8).  Nevertheless, Micaiah was borught before the king (an adviser even told Micaiah to speak an encouraging word this time! lol)  At first he gave the "company answer" to the king: Do whatever seems best to you.  Then Ahab scolded him for not speaking the truth, whereby Micaiah gave a lnog & detailed account of Ahab's impending death.

While I find that interchange interesting, it's the next interchange that captured my spirit today.  Another prophet named Zedekiah took offense when Micaiah said that God put a lying spirit into the mouths of the other prophets.  So he struck Micaiah & sarcastically asked when did God levae him for Micaiah.

To me this is a warning never to get too smug or self-assured as a pastor.  I may have had wonderful moments with God in the past and great experiences leading His church.  But there's a chance I might also be wrong about something I think or believe.  I need to be steadfast in my connection/intimacy with God and never assume that I'm right, based solely on my past history.  Humility necessitates me to always consider there may be NEW INSIGHT and WISDOM from God that I need to learn.

LORD, I want to be in tune with You and Your Holy Spirit.  I also know that I don't have all the answers.  Keep me open to learning from whomever you send to teach me.  AMEN.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

No Lone Rangers

"Then Elijah said to the people, 'I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets number 450!"
(1 Kings 18:22)

We Americans love our heroes.  Whether on the big screen (Iron Man, Captain America, Batman, etc.) or in real life (Firefighters, Police, US Military, etc.)... from our past (Washington, Lincoln, Jackson, etc.), or our more contemporary present (MLK Jr., Caesar Chavez, John Glenn, etc.)... in the world of sports (Babe Ruth, Lou Cherig, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Don Drysdale, etc.) or entertainment (Brando, Hanks, Stallone, Will Smith, etc.).  We love heroic characters and heroic actions.  We love the underdog.  We love fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds.

But sometimes we think a bit more of ourselves than we should.  Okay, maybe quite a bit more than sometimes.  We forget that others may be in the very same place as us (for good or ill).  We think it's up to us to "press ahead" and "go it alone."  But we're wrong.

Elijah can relate.  In 1 Kings 17-19 we get a marvelous story of drought & rain, challenge & danger, fire & water, God & Baal.  Elijah was a prophet of God... who God used powerfully, indeed!  But he thought he was "it."  He thought he was the only one.  The last of the faithful.  The survivor.  He thought he was THE ONLY person left that God could use.  He, too, was wrong.

Even after Obadiah told him that he'd hidden 50 prophets of the LORD from danger (see 1 Kings 18:13), Elijah still told the people that he alone was the only one left who represented God (see 1 Kings 18:22).  And then brought it back up to God later, when he was on the run from Queen Jezebel (see 19:14).  The problem is, that's not true.  God informed Elijah that there were at least 7,000 who had not bowed down to the false God, Baal.  SEVEN THOUSAND!  That's a far cry from the 1 that Elijah thought was left.

Many of us grew up with the understanding that hard work & determination was expected of us.  That's a fine foundation, indeed.  But we also need to build upon a foundation of teamwork, camaraderie, and connection.  We aren't called to be "Lone Rangers."  We sometimes think we're the only ones being faithful to God at times.  Nope.  We actually have no idea about the true faithfulness of others.  So we need to stop trying to compare ourselves to others.  Stop feeling sorry for whatever state of life we find ourselves in.  And start trusting that God is at work in MANY MORE places & lives than we can ever imagine.  Let's be humble.  Let's look to collaborate and share ministry (especially among us pastors!).  I think the world will be a much better place.

The benefits of staying awake

[From 8/11/15]

"Now Peter & his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the 2 men who stood with him."
(Luke 9:32)

Jesus takes his 3 closest disciples (friends!) up on the mountain to pray.  Evidently they were praying a long time so they got sleepy (or maybe they get sleepy when praying, like I do!?!).  That happens, right?  That's completely understandable.  However, that's not where the story ends.  They don't take a nap & call it a day.  No.  Luke tells us "but since they had stayed awake..."  They fought through the sleepiness.  And as a result, they saw Jesus' transformation (along with Moses & Elijah!).

I know about sleeping during prayer times.  I also know about fighting to try and stay awake - especially driving long distances (like coming back home to Palmdale from being "down below").  Sometimes we are indeed "weighed down with sleep," but it's not a good time to be sleeping (like when we're supposed to be driving!).  The easy response is to go with it and sleep - but we might miss something God has for us.  

I don't want to sleep through "God moments" here at Palmdale.  I want to be open, alert, and attentive to the movement of God.  How do I do that?  Well, for starters, get sleep when I'm supposed to be sleeping, so I can stay alert when I need to be alert!  That will account for physical sleepiness.  What about spiritual sleepiness?  I know that I need to make the effort to do my personal devotional times each day, so I can be alert to what God might be saying to me through the Scriptures (and throughout my day).

PRAYER: Help me make YOU a part of every day of my life, LORD... so I don't miss a moment of what you have for me.  AMEN.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Soaked in Love

"...So that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places." 
(Ephesians 3:10)

One of the interesting aspects of living in Palmdale is that numerous times during the week, the local newspaper (The Antelope Valley Press) runs regular articles & letters by people of faith.  It comes in the Editorial/Commentary section of the paper.  Almost daily I'll see letters from folks with a religious background/agenda.  But there are a also regular columns by local clergy.  One is very conservative.  Another is more mainline & progressive.  They always draw a lot of commentary afterwards, too!  Though I may not agree with the content, they're very interesting to read.

Paul, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, mentions the role of the church is to convey "the wisdom of God" (in it's rich variety - something not all Christians seem to grasp) to the "rulers & authorities in heavenly places."  That's a pretty clear mandate.  Don't keep God's wisdom to ourselves, but SHARE it with all - especially those in key leadership positions (BTW, I'd love to research what Paul meant by 'authorities in heavenly places'... so intriguing!).

But just a few verses later, Paul reminds us believers that our whole purpose in life is to have Christ dwell in our hearts as we are being "rooted and grounded in love."  Wow.  I love that.  As we share God's wisdom with others, are we soaking it in love or judgment?  Grace or condemnation?  Personally, I want to be rooted & grounded in love.  It sounds like the much better option! ;)

One of the Family

[From August 8, 2015]

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also memebers of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles & prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone."
(Ephesians 2:19-20)

I'm new to California.  I'm officially a resident: got my CA drivers' license, paying rent & utilities, even registered to vote.  But it will wake me a while before I feel like "a Californian."  I'm a US citizen, so I don't have the "outsiders" struggle that many immigrants face.  That's quite a topic of debate and controversy - not just in CA, but all over this country (though especially in the "border states").  Once someone has achieved "citizen" status, they're in!

The Bible uses citizenship language (along with 'resident alien,' 'stranger,' 'sojourner,' etc.).  This is both a literal descriptions (the Hebrews were resident aliens in Egypt, so they know what it's like; thus, they're to have compassion on the resident aliens who live in Israel!)... and a spiritual one.  Paul writes about God's WELCOME & ACCEPTANCE of us as "citizens" of the Kingdom.  Not just citizens, but "members of the household of God."  That's integration, community & family intimacy.  We join all those "saints" who have come before, because of the work of Jesus.

The church, when at our best, is about INCLUSION, not exclusion.  It's about extending God's loving hospitality & welcome to all, not being gatekeepers at the door of grace.  God can take care of that department just fine, should He choose to do so.  In the meantime, thanks be to God for our inclusion & acceptance.  May we extend that same hospitality to others.  All others!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Don't hit snooze!

"Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread."
(Proverbs 20:13)

I just got a new app for my iPhone. It's called "SLEEP SCIENCE."  It not only measures how much deep sleep I get each night, but analyzes my sleep cycles and will wake me up within 30 minutes of when I want to get up, according to the best time in my cycle.  So far, after only 3 days (or nights!), it's interesting... though I'm not sure of it's effects yet.

Sleep is essential to health & life.  Too often people say they need more sleep... or they're tired all the time... or they had a rough night's sleep... etc.  Sometimes we go & go and neglect getting the proverbial "good night's sleep."  But then there are times we choose to sleep more than we may need to (just because it feels so good!).

Proverbs 20:13 says, "Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty."  I believe this comes out of a time when hard work & determination were seen as a necessity for survival.  Get up early and put in an honest day's work, and you'll be okay.  Today, however, people are able to make a living by a variety of means (and though a variety of hours)... so it may not be as relevant.  However, it got me thinking...

Almost 3 years ago I made a major change in my daily routine.  I realized I needed to be reading more (especially for my role as a pastor & leader).  So I decided to get up at 6am (instead of 7am) to do professional reading.  Which also meant that I needed to get to bed between 10-11pm each night (and I often would stay up much later, usually watching movies from Netflix!).  Although at times this has been challenging, it's also paid off huge dividends.  I've gotten so many books read, and have grown as a leader and pastor because of it.

So look at your sleeping patterns.  Might you be able to alter them in order to accomplish something more?!?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Love Connection?

"King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the Israelites, 'You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surly incline your heart to follow their gods"; Solomon clung to these in love.  Among his wives were 700 princesses and 300 concubines; and his wives turned away his heart."
(1 Kings 11:1-3)

Political alliances have been around since the very beginning.  If neighboring countries share a common interest (or have family members marry into other ruling dynasties), they're less likely to be antagonistic.  Kings & Queens would align themselves with other key families to preserve positive relationships among nations.

Solomon, however, seemed to take this to the extreme.  He amassed 1,000 women in his "family": 700 wives & 300 concubines.  Women from all over!  The wives were mostly princesses (700)... but how many "marriage alliances" does it take to secure a nation?!?!  (Surely 700 is a bit of overkill, right?)  Not to mention the 300 concubines, whom I have to imagine had very little political connection (and were more of attraction-based).  On top of that, God had previously warned his people to avoid intermarrying with certain countries (due to their religious proclivities).  Despite his reputation for wisdom, Solomon ignored this advice.  The author of 1 Kings says that he "clung to these in love."  Which, on the surface, sounds very romantic & noble ("clinging in love"!)... until you remember there were one thousand women he supposedly "loved."

In the end, these women (and Solomon's devotion to and affection for them) led his heart astray.  In order to appease his wives, he built foreign altars and worship spaces for them, thus taking away from the authority of God.  God was not pleased... and eventually removed Solomon from leadership.

So how does this relate to us today?  We no longer live in a time where multiple marriages occur (even among rulers).  I see this, however, as a caution against a prevailing theme in our American culture: "FOLLOW YOUR HEART!"  Let passion take over!  Give in to the feelings of love and romance!  Follow your heart.

Okay.  But what if your heart begins to lead you down paths that may not be wise?  What if it causes you to go against commitments you've made, all in the name of "finding true love" or your "soul mate"?  We need to guard our hearts and allow God to be our guide... not our own passions & desires (which are easily swayed!).  Our lives, hearts and relationships should honor God, not our own whims.  And if Solomon can succumb to this (renowned for his wisdom!), we all need to be on alert.  It could happen to anyone.  Seriously.  Let's allow God to guide our "love connections."

(NOTE: After writing this entry, I got in my car & drove to work.  On the radio (local LA station) I heard a woman tell her story about how, after 24 years of marriage, she accidentally discovered her husband was having an affair with another married woman.  She chose to stick with him & go through marriage counseling together... however, still was dealing with the terrible feelings that come with the choices her husband had made.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A blank check

"Give your servant, therefore, an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good & evil; for who can govern this your great people?"
(1 Kings 3:9)

When David died, his son Solomon succeeded him as king.  One night God appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked him what he wanted.  What a question!  God basically gave him a blank check and invited Solomon to write in whatever he wanted.  It could've been wealth & riches, fame & posterity, love & legacy, vengeance & retribution for his enemies, etc.  The sky was the limit!  Instead, Solomon asked for wisdom to lead & govern the people.  And God was pleased with this response.

Following Pastor Jim Powell at Palmdale UMC is kind of like following King David.  Both had an amazing legacy... both were much beloved... both walked closely with God and received God's blessings in abundance.  So what would I ask for if  God gave me a choice?  Financial security for the church (ie. pay off the property loan!)?  To grow the church to double it's current size?  To be able to finish my ministry here (25 more years!)?  To become a renowned preacher?  Those are all tempting, for sure (and would be on my short list of things to ask God for)... but I think Solomon had it right: WISDOM & DISCERNMENT.

This is the largest church I've ever served.  I don't even know what I don't know yet.  There will be challenges in my leadership tenure that will stretch me.  I want God's wisdom, guidance, and discernment.  I want to be able to do what's best for Palmdale UMC - not what's necessarily best (or easiest) for me.  I want to be faithful to God's call on my life to shepherd this community of faith.

So give me wisdom, Lord... as I lead and guide this beloved community of Palmdale UMC.  Help me wait for your leading before moving ahead.  Help me to focus on what's really important here: Your will, not my own.  AMEN.

Don't get ahead of myself...

[From 7-14-15]

"I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me..."
(Psalm 131:1b)

If David wrote this psalm, I wonder if it was penned when he became King of Israel?  Or after ascending to the ranks of Army commander in Israel?  Or on the run when Saul wanted him killed?  Whatever time in his life, he recognized the need for humility, simplicity, and contentment.  To rest in the presence of God - God who supplies all his needs.  All he had to do was that which God has called him to.  Nothing more.

I've come to a large & vibrant church here in Palmdale.  There are many activities & opportunities for ministry.  There's also a great legacy Pastor Jim Powell has left. Big shoes to fill.  This psalm reminds me that God doesn't ask me to step into Jim Powell's shoes.  God asks me to wear the shoes he's given me.  Not to worry about where this church is heading 5 or 10 years down the road.  For now, just be content with leading one day at a time... with the gifts & graces he's already given me.

Thank you, God, for this opportunity of ministry.  Thank yo for the staff & laity that are committed to being partners in ministry here.  Help me not to get ahead of myself.  Help me to start each day with you and your vision for me.  AMEN.

New Frontiers

[From 7-7-15]

"So Abram went, as the LORD had told him..." 
(Genesis 12:4a)

At age 75, God calls Abram to leave what's familiar... to leave "home" and go someplace new.  He doesn't question, argue, whine, lament, grieve, or otherwise protest one bit.  HE. JUST. GOES.  Why? Because God told him to.  Period.

I've lived in Hawaii since 1983.  Subtracting 4 years of seminary, that's 28 years of living in the same state.  I've been at Aiea UMC for the past 15 years.  I've never lived longer any other place in my 47 years of life.  I felt God's call to ministry in Hawaii.  I first joined the UMC in Hawaii.  My entire ministry career thus far has been in the islands.  So when God called me to come to Palmdale (through the voices of Tom Choi, Cedric Bridgeforth & Bishop Minerva Carcano), it was a BIG change.  

In previous moves (inter-island), I questioned & wrestled & struggled with the timing of it all.  Each move I felt like I still had leadership to give and things to do in ministry.  In some ways, I still did at Aiea, too.  But I chose to go.  Without drama.  Without questioning.  Without complaint.  I'm trusting God and excited about where this is going!

Thank you, LORD, for leading.  Thank you for the call.  Thank you for Palmdale and this staff I get to be in ministry together with.  Thank you for what you will do through ALL of this!  AMEN.

Friday, July 10, 2015

House Matters

(from July 5, 2015)

"Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house..."
(2 Samuel 7:11b)

For the first time in 15 year,s we're moving.  And for the first time in 21 years, we've had to pick out our own house (praise God for the parsonage system, prior!).  Jody and I came to Palmdale for a short visit in April and looked at a lot of rental properties, but didn't find "the one" (Jody told me we'd know it when we saw it!).  Then some friends from PUMC found a cute little house on a 2/3 acre lot... sent us the pictures... and we knew that it was the one for us.
Now that we've arrived, it's still a cute little house with great character and tremendous potential... but we've seen all of it's imperfections, now, too.  We know how its been neglected.  We are aware of the areas that need fixing and improving.  And it's kind of overwhelming.  Did we make a mistake?  Did we choose the wrong house?  Is it too late to change our minds (we haven't signed the contract yet)?  Last night was a night of deep conversation and soul searching.  In the end, we decided to give it a year and then reassess next June.

Then I get up this morning and the passage I read in my devotions is from 2 Samuel 7.  David has settled into the capital of Jerusalem as Israel's 2nd king.  His borders are secure.  Life is good.  And suddenly he gets the idea to build God a house (aka "temple").  He even consults his pastor (Nathan) who gives the green light.  But that very night God visits David in a dream and tells him He doesn't need a house - at least not right now.  Besides, God didn't ask David to do this.  Instead, God says, "I'm going to build YOU a house!" Not a physical house.  A dynastic house.  God will establish David's legacy... and from his offspring will come a great ruler/leader (we know that to be Jesus).

What a fitting word for me.  Not that I (or  any of my offspring) will be the equivalent of Jesus... but that God is focused on my ministry here at Palmdale UMC and establishing kingdom-building priorities.  I'm focused on a physical house.  That's not a big concern, I hear God saying this morning.  Think BIGGER!  Think KINGDOM!

So I will head out to my first worship service at Palmdale UMC in 15 minutes.  The first of what may be many, many years of serving the Lord in this new community.  I will let our house be whatever it will be.  I will focus, however, on the house that God is building in me.  A house that draws others to Him.  A house that is humble & repentant.  A house that leans on the One who created me!  And I will be grateful, thankful, and expectant.  

Come, Lord Jesus...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Love, don't hate

"With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord; I will praise him in the midst of the throng."
(Psalm 109:30)

Everyone is talking about it today.

The US Supreme Court has ruled that all people are free to marry whomever they love, regardless of the gender.  The debate about same sex marriage has been raging for a long, long time.  But now, at least in the eyes of the US courts system, the issue is settled.  Of course, people are still free to believe whatever they want about same sex marriage & homosexuality.  That's part of what makes our country great (free speech & freedom of religion).  No one is being forced to believe or adopt anything that goes contrary to their own beliefs.  But the ruling today is a legal mandate.

In my devotions this morning, I read Psalm 109.  The subtitle is "A Psalm for Vindication & Vengeance" (terrible title, if you ask me).  I have to admit it, I read it in a whole new light today.  Not just in response to the Supreme Court's ruling, but also in response to the tragic shooting last week in South Carolina at an AME church bible study, by an angry young white man.  Psalm 109 is full of hate language.  At first glance, it looks like the author is voicing his contempt.  But when I reread it, I got a different impression...

The psalmist speaks about those who have attacked him & been his enemies: "They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.  In return for my love they accuse me even while I make prayer for them" (v.3-4).  Then verses 6-19 recount all of the hate speech & oppression the psalmist has had to face.  Wow.  I almost couldn't read it.  Terrible things.

It seems that the Christian Church has become quite splintered.  Maybe we always have been and I'm just seeing it more prominently now because of the LBGT debates in our society.  But when we, as followers of Jesus, stoop to spewing hate, condemnation, and graceless judgment in our speech, we dishonor God.  We don't all have to agree on every issue theologically or politically, of course.  But please people, let's be civil and loving in our words & deeds (and relationships)!

I think it's telling that years before Jesus walked this earth, the pslamist was doing what Jesus would call people to do - love their enemies & pray for those who persecute them.  At the end of Psalm 109, the author looks to God alone for strength & support.  God has a history of siding with the downtrodden, the abused, and the oppressed.  Our response throughout all that befalls us in life should be praise & thanksgiving to God (no matter what's happening), not ugliness, hatred & words of vengeance. 

And on a historic day like today, that call rings loud & clear.  At least to me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Speaking out!

"One of the lawyers answered him, 'Teacher, when you say these things you insult us, too.'  And Jesus said, 'Woe also to you lawyers!  For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them...'"
(Luke 11:45-46)

There was no such thing as "political correctness" when Jesus lived.  He told it like it was.  He often insulted people in positions of power (like the religious leaders, the Pharisees... and lawyers!).  He was brutally honest and not afraid to speak about it in public.

But here's the thing: he always spoke upon the side of Justice & Righteousness.  He didn't just spout controversial sayings.  He didn't just attack celebrities for shock value.  He didn't just make a radical statement to get noticed (or bask in the free PR)!  No.  He spoke up on behalf of the downtrodden & oppressed.  He chastised the religious leaders and lawyers because of the ways they negatively influenced those around them (especially the common folk).

I tend to not want to offend folks.  I try to be diplomatic & graceful.  I wonder, however, if I've missed opportunities to speak out against injustice & oppression?!?  God forbid.  And God forgive.

4-Fold Benediction

[From 5/22/15]

"Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.  Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of Love & Peace will be with you."
(2 Corinthians 13:11)

As Paul wraps up his 2nd letter to the church in Corinth, he leaves them with a final set of admonitions.  Four requests:
  1. Put things in order... (aka "get your stuff together!")  Do what you know you need to be doing.  Reconcile relationships.  Correct your behavior.  Change your actions.  Do right by God & others.
  2. Listen to my appeal... (aka "encourage one another")  Follow the words of this letter. Quit bickering.  Be one.  United!  Encourage & build up, don't tear each other down.
  3. Agree with one another... It's all about unity.  Support.  Being one body together.  Agree.  Don't fight & argue.  Seriously.
  4. Live in peace... Peace in your life & heart & mind & spirit.  Be an agent of peace.  Smooth out broken & troubled relationships.
As I wrap up my 15 years of ministry at Aiea UMC, these words work for both instructions and as a legacy for me.  I've worked to mend relationships with Aiea Korean UMC.  I've tried to help people live together with peace & encouragement.  I've sought to help the community here at Aiea UMC have a discipleship plan and strategy for faithfulness.  Have I always got it right?  Of course not.  So forgive me when I've missed the mark.  But for the most part, I'd be content with this legacy if it could be said about me!


[From 5/21/15]

"Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you?  We are speaking in Christ before God.  Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up."
(2 Corinthians 12:19)

Families can be messy at times.  Relationships can be messy at times.  Churches (and church families) can be messy at times.  Paul knew this.  He'd helped establish quite a few churches in his time.  The letters we have in the New Testament are often focused on the "messiness" of churches (and relationships).

Some even questioned Paul's motivation & leadership.  Did that hurt him?  Probably.  I can't see how it wouldn't.  But he didn't let it get him down.  He simply explained his bottom line: everything he's done has been to build up the believers in their faith.

We pastors are definitely human - complete with faults, failures, and insecurities.  Occasionally we begin to think our churches revolve around us.  We may even operate out of selfish motives from time to time.  But Paul reminds us where our focus should be: always building up the church.  Always  It's not about us.  It's about Jesus.  And helping our people grow.

(Funny how times of pastoral transition help remind us that!?!)