Thursday, January 29, 2015


"As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time on and forevermore."
(Psalm 125:2)

If I had to choose between the mountains and the sea, I'd pick the mountains.  I love the sea.  But it really wouldn't even be a difficult choice.  I've always been drawn to mountains.  Summer chap in the mountains of North Central Arizona... driving through the majestic Grand Teton National Park, on our way home from visiting Grandma & Grandpa White in Montana... Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado... The Grand Canyon in Arizona... the summer in college I spent 10 days camping in Yosemite National Park (sigh!).  My heart soars when I'm in the mountains.

Hawaii has mountains, too.  Waimea Canyon on Kauai (aka "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific").  Mauna Loa & Mauna Kea on the Big Island.  Haleakala on Maui.  They're all very special places.  Sacred places, even, to many in the Hawaiian community.  But the mountains I see most often on Oahu are the Koolaus.  They serve as the back-drop to the Leeward side of Oahu..  So stately.  So constant.  If you travel H3 to the windward side, however, you really get to experience the Koolaus in all their grandeur.  Towering above the inhabitants of Kailua & Kaneohe, the jagged, water-hewn cliffs are a sight to behold.

The pslamist reminds us that God surrounds us, like the mountains that surround Jerusalem.  I don't know what the mountains around Jerusalem are like.  But I do know the Koolaus.  They're awesome.  Tehy're here.  Constantly.  Comforting.  They're home.  Thank you, God, for your presence with us continually.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Not all were excited.

"When (Jesus) came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him.  They were so fierce that no one could pass that way."
(Matthew 8:28)

As Jesus was passing through a particular area (Gadarenes or Gerasenes), he was stopped by two men not in their right mind.  Matthew tells us they were "demoniacs" - possessed by demons (though in the New Testament, many ailments were attributed to demon possession).  Whatever the case, they made it impossible for any travelers to pass their way.

Can you imagine the inconvenience (not to mention fear) that put into the lives of all who lived in that area?  Travel had to be redirected.  Commerce couldn't move through.  People would be afraid of being in the same vicinity of these two "fierce" men - never quite knowing what they might do.

When they met Jesus, he healed them completely.  He cast out the demons and restored them to their right minds.  What a momentous day in the lives of those two men - and in the lives of all in that region!  Unfortunately, the aftermath of the cleansing saw an entire heard of swine that was drowned in the sea (the demons had moved from the two men into the pigs, and they went on a suicide mission).  When word of the economic disaster spread, people panicked.  "Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood" (v.34).

Wow.  I did not see that coming.  Why beg him to leave?  Didn't they see the new life & healing Jesus brought to those 2 men?  Couldn't they envision more healing & new life in their own lives & community?  Or was the lure of wealth (or, in this case, the LOSS of wealth) the ultimate deciding factor?  How short-sighted.  There is much more to this life than money.

There will always be nay-sayers and "haters."  Especially when the power of God begins to change lives.  It disrupts the comfortable ways we've come to have our own routines.  May we have the courage to throw our support to the ones who have been touched by Jesus - and not let our desire for financial security hold us back.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


"Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun & Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled..."
 (Matthew 4:12-14)

In Matthew's gospel, the first sighting we get of Jesus as an adult is when he travels south to the Judean wilderness to be baptized by John in the Jordan River (Mt. 3:13-17).  Immediately afterwards, he is "led by the Spirit" into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Mt. 4:1-11).  The very next verse says Jesus, upon hearing about John's arrest, "withdrew to Galilee" (4:12).  That must have been a disturbing piece of news.  John the Baptist, one of the leading spiritual voices at that time... who had just baptized Jesus (and been prophesying about Jesus' upcoming ministry), was being "silenced" by King Herod.  Maybe Jesus would be targeted next?!?

Galilee was far north of the Judean wilderness.  So at first, it may seem like Jesus is "getting out of Dodge" rather quickly.  It would be much safer in Galilee (plus, it was where he was from!).  But Jesus doesn't hunker down in his hometown of Nazareth and "lay low."  No.  He moves from the safe confines of Nazareth to the much larger seaport city of Capernaum.  It's there that he begins his ministry by calling his first disciples.

What struck me as interesting today was the reason WHY he started his ministry.  Sure, it was probably God's timing... but it also seemed to be necessitated by the unfortunate arrest of John.  This tells me that sometimes "negative events" can be the catalyst for new opportunities & ministries.  It's kind of like what's happening at my church in Aiea right now.  The leadership has been facing a potentially debilitating budget deficit.  But through much prayer, hard work, and being open to the leading of the Spirit, we're now on track for a balanced budget in 2015, AND a new (renewed!??) vision for ministry this year!  I'm so excited about where God is leading.  And had we NOT had this potential financial crisis, we may not have moved out of our regular routine.

You gotta love those catalyst incidents.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bring it on!

"Therefore, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."
(2 Corinthians 12:10)

We're conditioned at a young age to be strong, confident, bold, self-reliant, and courageous.  Books, films, stories, athletic competitions, theater & television all perpetuate this.  There's nothing wrong with these values.  In fact, then often are needed to get through the ups and downs of life.  But as people of faith we know something else: it's not about us and our own abilities.  God is real!  God gives us the strength, grace, perseverance, and courage to press ahead - especially in the midst of difficulty.

We all have moments in our lives when things don't go exactly the way we'd planned or hoped.  In fact, sometimes things get downright discouraging.  Insults hurled.  Reputations questioned.  Hardship ensues. It's in these obvious moments of weakness that God does his best work.  Its' here that we must rely on God's strength & power to pull us through.

Because, remember... it's not about us and our abilities.  It's all about God!  So bring on the hardship - it will only make us stronger, as we trust in the Lord to see us through!


[From January 19, 2015]

"And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work."
(2 Corinthians 9:8)

We are blessed in this country.  We have wealth in abundance, compared to many in the world.  Oh, we may not think so.  "We're not rich," we tell ourselves.  But the truth is we are.  We are rich in finances, resources, and opportunities.  Some of us spend a majority of our time trying to increase that abundance.  Some of us spend time sharing it with others.

The apostle Paul recognized the church in Corinth was a church with abundance.  God had, indeed, blessed them!  They "always had enough of everything."  What an amazing statement!  Enough.  Not too little or too much.  Enough.  Why?  To stockpile & save "for a rainy day"?  To protect for one's future?  Paul says it's so they can "share abundantly in every good work."

Those words should guide us today in our abundance.  We've been given things that many in this world don't have.  Why?  For our own good (or our children?)?  How about so we can SHARE that abundance, doing good?  Great advice for ourselves as individuals... and for our churches!

Adversarial, but effective!

[From Jan. 16, 2015]

"But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door of effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries."
(1 Corinthians 16:8-9)

Paul traveled a lot.  He set up numerous churches & faith communities.  He visited, supported, encouraged, challenged, and made sure his prior groups were keeping the faith.  He moved methodically through the Mediterranean region.  But sometimes he felt like the Holy Spirit was guiding & directing his travel itinerary.

At the end of 1 Corinthians, he mentions wanting to stay in Ephesus through Pentecost.  I don't know when in the year he wrote the letter... but he was clear about his time ahead (note: Pentecost was 50 days after Easter!).  He mentions two interesting components: 1) he saw a "wide door of effective work" opening up (lots of great things to do in ministry!)... and 2) there were many adversaries amidst this work.

I'm at a place in my life & ministry right now that I can relate.  I'm in my 15th year at Aiea UMC.  Some say I've already stayed too long & should move on.  Some say I've done what I've been able to do, and it's time for someone else to lead the congregation.  Those may be true.  However, I'm also quite excited about the work ahead, and what I feel God is calling me to still do here.  I desperately want to help people grow deeper in their discipleship and in their relationship with Christ.  It's also the first time in my 21 years of ministry that I've had a full-time associate pastor to work with.  Great things lie ahead, I'm sure of it!  But I have also experienced, for the first time, adversarial situations in my ministry.

Today's passage from 1 Corinthians has encouraged & reminded me to keep pressing on.  Maybe it's a sign that I'm on the right track?  I want to be open to whatever God is seeking to do with my life & ministry.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

But without love...

"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."
(1 Corinthians 13:1)

American retailers are so funny. Christmas marketing & advertising begin sometime in October (I can't recall the exact date, it seems to keep getting earlier and earlier).  Those decorations stay up all throughout Halloween & Thanksgiving.  But come December 26, the day after Christmas, many stores are already putting out their Valentine's Day displays.  (sigh)

Ah, Valentine's Day!  The holiday to celebrate love.  But not the everyday, hard work, invest-yourself-in-the-life-of-another kind of love.  No, it's more like a romanticized, Hollywoodized, hard-to-achieve, happily-ever-after kind of love.  It has little to do with commitment, sacrifice, & putting the other first.  And more to do with jewelry, romantic dinners, flowers, chocolates & lingerie.  Oh yah, and Hallmark cards.

1 Corinthians 13 is probably THE MOST FAMOUS bible passage on love.  It's definitely the most used passage from the Bible at weddings (and whatever's second is not even close!).  But before Paul tells us what love actually IS (ie. patient, kind, not jealous, etc.), he tells us something else.  In the first 3 verses of the chapter, Paul says that we can do the most amazing spiritual things... accomplish the greatest religious feats... but if we do it without love, it's meaningless. 

Wow.  Let that sink in for a minute.  If we reach the greatest spiritual heights in our faith, but do so without love, it doesn't mean a thing.  Period.  Ouch.

We must have a spirit of LOVE in all that we do... our actions, words, endeavors, relationships, energies, etc.  That should cause us to pause, and reassess how we've interacted with others today (and everyday!).  It sure does for me.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

"For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does."
(1 Corinthians 7:4)

The Bible is full of passages about love, justice & compassion which have inspired billions over the centuries, and drawn critical acclaim.  And then there are a few New Testament passages about gender roles ("women should remain silent in church") and power between spouses ("women should submit to their husbands") that have drawn much debate (and even led to abuse that God would never condone!).  I'm not going to get into those now.

However, I read in interesting passage today from 1 Corinthians 7:4... Paul reminded spouses that their bodies don't really belong to them.  Instead, they are to be for their spouse!  and it goes both ways - a woman's body is for her husband, but also a husband's body should be for his wife.  It seems like word had got to Paul that some were "withholding conjugal rights" from their mates (for whatever reasons).  So Paul reminded them that sexual passion & sexual fulfillment was a big part of marriage & should be freely experienced between married couples.

That, in itself, it kind of a cool statement.  It's not about you, it's about your spouse.  Your body should be available to meet the intimacy needs of your spouse.  That's awesome.

But my thinking went a little deeper.  In my own marriage I know that my wife often has sore & tight muscles.  She has a monthly appointment with a masseuse.  From time to time I give her "amateur" massages.  But if I take this passage from 1 Cor. seriously, I should be MORE EAGER to massage, caress & help alleviate the pains of her body.  Because, deep down, it's really my body, too.  And I'm saying this beyond the sexual relationship, of course.  Taking care of "our bodies" is something that both spouses should be concerned about.  Wow.  Cool.