Friday, March 27, 2015

HE > Fear

"But Moses spoke to the LORD, 'The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?'"
(Exodus 6:12)

Our egos are peculiar things, aren't they?  For the most part, I'm a fairly confident guy.  I'm secure in my calling as a pastor.  Blessed to be loved by my wife & family.  And comfortable with who I believe God has created me to be.

But a few years ago I went ot he Philippines with some good friends & ministry colleagues - we were speaking together at a conference.  Surrounded by excellence and in awe of their extemporaneous, powerfully compelling preaching styles, I suddenly felt out of place.  Doubt crept in.  I preach with a manuscript.  I have good content, but I'm nowhere near as engaging as they are.  My style was o different.  Would they even like it?  Envy & disappointment surfaced in my heart.  For probably one of the only times in my life, I was almost paralyzed with fear.  But thanks be to God, those same friends prayed with me and reminded me of my own giftings & grace... and my confidence returned.

So I can relate to Moses... who, though called by God, felt inadequate in some areas to lead his people.  In fact, he complained multiple times... reminding God over and over that no one ever listened when he spoke!  But God had a plan for him.  God would give him the right words to speak.  Moses just had to be faithful to God's call.

God is greater than our fears, doubts, and insecurities.  If we'll trust in Him, we will be able to accomplish all that He's put before us (which is usually far greater than we can ever imagine ourselves!).  Praise God for that.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Face of God

"But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept."
(Genesis 33:4)

Jacob was "the Trickster."  From the moment he was born, he was grabbing the heel of his (just seconds older) twin brother, Esau.  He tricked his father and grabbed his brother's birthright years later.  In fact, that incident forced him to flee for his life - his mother feared Esau would kill him!

Twenty years later, Jacob is finally ready to return home.  He now has 13 children by 4 different women (whom all still live together, 2 of them are wives, 2 servants given by their respective wives).... and countless sheep, cattle, and other animals.  But he's also completely terrified that his brother still might want to kill him.  In fact, he's willing to sacrifice half of his possessions if that will spare the rest.  On top of it all, Jacob prays to God for the very first time on record in Genesis... asking for safety & protection.

In the end, Esau proved to be the "bigger brother."  He overcame past hurts & grievances.  He was able to forgive & embrace Jacob.  It blew Jacob away!  Seriously.  "For truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God," says the Trickster (and I don't think he was fooling!).

When we forgive, we reflect God's face.  When we allow God to heal our past hurts and betrayals, we bring healing & reconciliation to others.  What a gift.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

God hears.

[From March 12, 2015]

"For (Hagar) said, 'Do not let me look on the death of (my) child.'  And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.  And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven..."
(Genesis 21:16-17)

Life is precious.  And precarious.  The story of Abraham in the book of Genesis knows this.  Sent out on a mission by God at age 75, Abraham had more than his share of challenges.  God had promised he & Sarah a son.  11 years later, still no child.  So Sarah "gave" her servant Hagar to Abe as a surrogate mother.  When Ishmael was born, Sarah suddenly loathed both the boy and his mother.  14 years later, when God finally granted her a child (Isaac), she had Abe cast out Hagar & Ishmael.

Left alone int he wilderness with little supplies, Hagar knew their end was near.  She couldn't bear to watch her only don die.  So when all had run out, they sat down under separate shade trees to die.  The narrator tells us only of Hagar's vocal weeping.  But when an angel comes to let her know she's not as alone as she thought, the angel says that "God heard the voice of the boy."  I found that quite curious.  We didn't even hear the voice of the boy.

Now maybe this can be explained by the male-dominated society in which the Bible was written.  Women had very little status, so their voices were rarely heard!  But maybe there's something more here?!

Could it be that despite the tears & wailing of Hagar, God is especially attentive to the cries & prayers of the young?  Granted, Ishmael was probably 14 at that point (given the time table the narrative sets before us), so he's no "child" as we might think of the term today.  Yet he's still his mother's son.  At what age does one cease being a child in the eyes of one's parents?  Probably never.  (note: it's not the same as being or acting childish!)

What would it mean if God had a special place in His heart for our children & youth?  God hears everyone's prayers, granted... but what if God's hearing was especially in tune with the cries of the young?  Would it change the way we parented?  Did church?  Thought of our young people throughout the week?  Woudl it change the way we looked at abuse among our youngest members of society (physical, emotional, sexual, etc.)?

God hears.  God knows.  God hurts.  God seeks to heal.  Will we acknowledge the hurting in our littlest ones?  Will we be God's hands & feet to help them?


[From March 9, 2015]

"Then Abram said to Lot, 'Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred.  Is not the whole land before you?  Separate yourself from me.  If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left."
(Genesis 13:8-9)

God has called Abram to go.  "Don't worry about where, just go.  I'll tell you when to stop."  When they eventually did stop, there were problems between his "people" and the "people" of Lot, his nephew.  So Abe gives Lot the choice of lands.  "Make a choice!  I'll take what's leftover," says Abe.

Such a generous offer.  Abram is operating out of an abundance mindset.  There's more than enough for everybody!  So Lot chooses what he thinks will be the "best" land for his livestock.

As soon as Lot & Co. leave, God speaks to Abe.  God tells him that actually, Abe will receive ALL of the land!  Even Lot's "share."  God "out-gave" and "out-generoused" Abram.  That's awesome! (Why Lot lost his land is another story altogether.)  Abe was sincere with his generosity & grace, but God far surpassed that.

Too often we succumb to a "scarcity" mindset.  We hold on and squirrel away what little we have, because we can't imagine abundance.  That's not how God works.   (Praise God!)

More than free clothes!

[From March 6, 2015]

"The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.  And the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them."
(Genesis 3:20-21)

Here's the Cliff's Notes version of the Garden of Eden story: God is. Man created.  Garden planted.  Trees present!  "Eat from all but one."  Aniamls created.  Woman created.  One flesh union!  Serpent speaks.  Woman eats.  (It was THE ONE tree.  Ugh.)  Man follows.  They're naked?!?!  They hide.  God calls.  They blame.  God gives consequences.

What was interesting to me as I reread this story today was what God did AFTER scolding them (aka "consequences"): He clothed them.  Granted, when God created them they were naked, too.  But it wasn't an issue then.  Only after they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil did they realize they were naked (or at least that's when they got worried about it).

So God created them "good" (and naked!).  They got into trouble and no longer saw that goodness.  So God provided for their need.  Wow.  God could have easily washed his hands of them and left them on their own.  But God provided.  To me, that speaks of love, grace & connection.  The gift was more than just garments of skin.  It was more than free clothes!

How might God be working to provide for us in the midst of our human frailties & sinfulness?  Grace abounds.  Praise God!

Thursday, March 5, 2015


"Then the heavens & earth were finished, and all their multitude.  And on the 7th Day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the 7th day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation."
(Genesis 2:1-3)

God rested.  Creation took place.  Day & Night... Earth & Sky... Plants & Vegetation... Sun & Moon... Sea creatures & Birds... Wild Animals & Humans.  (Whew!) 

Then God rested.
And the day God rested was hallowed because of that rest.

Traditionally, we've called that day "the Sabbath."  One of the 10 Commandments reminds us to "honor the Sabbath and keep it holy."  Over the centuries we've been told that means we need to go to church and not work.  That's how we honor the Sabbath.  Worship has always been important. And initially the call to "not work" was important.  Bosses (masters) were required to give their workers (and slaves) one day off.  They weren't allowed to work 24/7/365.  Don't kill your workers (or yourselves!) with work.  Rest is needed for all.  Even God.

Most of us get at least one day off from work now.  But we don't always honor the Sabbath.  Many of us come to worship.  But that doesn't guarantee our "honoring" the Sabbath, either.  We seem to have a hard time creating space for rest & inactivity (and giving thanks to God for what He's created/provided for us!).  But we were created to need rest!  Naps.  Time with our family.  Sunset walks.  Art.  Song.  Love.  (The list could go on and on!)

God has already "hallowed" the Sabbath.  May we do the same.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

It's an opportunity!

"The 4th angel poured his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire; they were scorched by the fierce heat, but they cursed the name of God, who had authority over these plagues, and they did not repent & give him glory."
(Revelation 16:8-9)

Near the end of the Book of Revelation, 7 angels appear with 7 bowls of plagues.  This is the punishment for those who followed The Beast and not The Lamb.  A lot has transpired over the course of this book.  It's not the first time those who've opposed God have had to face some sort of consequences.

This particular "bowl of wrath" involves the sun's scorching heat oppressing folks.  They curse God, who has authority over the sun (and over all the plagues, actually).  That's kind of understandable, don't you think?  They're experiencing discomfort, pain & suffering.  It's a natural human response to want to curse.  But it's the final line that catches my attention: "and they did not repent and give God glory."

Wow.  That tells me that although it's a natural human response to want to curse, there is ANOTHER OPTION.  When we experience discomfort, pain & suffering, we can choose instead to praise God!  To repent & turn back to the Lord!  Don't curse.  Instead, look at it as an opportunity to draw close to the LORD.  Revelation 16:9 implies that God would have accepted their repentance, even in the midst of the "bowls of wrath!"  Wow.  Can I see setbacks & trials as opportunities to draw closer to God?  Or will I simply curse?


[From 2/26/15]

"For the love of God is this; that we obey his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world."
(1 John 5:3-4a)

There's an idea among some that God is a Divine Killjoy... seeking to rob us of our freedom to enjoy & explore life to the fullest.  That the Bible is merely a collection of rules designed to limit & restrict us.

I disagree.  I believe God wants us to experience the fullest that life has to offer!  God designed us to flourish.  We were created to know joy, pleasure, contentment & peace!  The only discrepancy is probably what brings about those things.

Yes, the Bible does have restrictions and prohibitions.  Like, don't steal from others.  Or lie to get people in trouble.  Don't kill anyone.  Don't have sex with someone's spouse.  Honor your parents, etc.  These commands were created to help keep relationship between humans positive!  But there's also calls to love others, forgive, don't hold grudges, to care for the poor & needy, etc.

The author of 1 John tells us that we show our love for God by our obedience to His commandments.  It's not enough to come to church week after week.  It's not enough to read the Bible regularly, either.  WE have to incorporate what we read & what we learn in church into our actions!  WE need to follow God's commands.

Some see this as a huge burden.  "I can never do all that!"  True.  We can't be perfect.  But God doesn't call us to be perfect.  God calls us to be faithful & obedient.  And we're reminded in 1 John 5:3 that his commandments are not burdensome.  They're really not.  Plus, whatever is born of God "conquers the world!"

Wow.  That's powerful!  Obeying God can lead to us overcoming any obstacle the world may throw our way.  Let us then seek God's truth... and live it out!

The anti-protest

[From 2/23/15]

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." 
(John 13:34-35)

Too often we Christians are known for what we're against, rather than what we're for.  Boycotts & protests.  Rallies at the Capital against Same-Sex Marriage.  Picketing in front of Abortion Clinics.  There's no lack of this kind of negative exposure that we Christians have brought upon ourselves.  Often we say we're doing it to uphold Scripture.  To be faithful to God's word.  Yet too often it's all done without a trace of love.

That's too bad.  Jesus counseled otherwise.  In John's gospel, he prepped the disciples one last time.  "I'm giving you a NEW commandment: love one another!"  Not just to fellow Christians, either.  To everyone!  "That's how they'll know you're my disciples - if you love one another!"

Wow.  What would it take for the rest of the world to automatically equate Christians with "loving others"?  It doesn't matter what church, denomination, location or pastor... but that all Christians everywhere would be known as "those people who really & truly love others"?!?

That's a world I'd want to be a part of!  That's the Kingdom of God.  Let's make it happen!

Listen up, parents!

[From 2/20/15]

"Jesus said to them, 'Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.'"
(John 5:19)

The religious leaders never gave Jesus the benefit of the doubt.  They always questioned, challenged, and charged Jesus with impropriety.  Always!  Usually it was after he'd just done something amazing, through God's power, too! 

In John 5, he heals a man who'd been ill for 38 years.  Can you imagine?  38 years!  Healing him wasn't the problem.  The problem was that Jesus did it on the Sabbath.  It thus constituted "work."  So, in the eyes of the leaders, it wasn't a God-moment.  It was a sin.  Then when Jesus refers to God as his Father, they lose it... and they charge him with blasphemy.

Jesus' response is simple: the Son only does what he's seen his Father do!  Period.  God is all about healing, wholeness & restoration.  Get on board with that message, says Jesus.

I know that.  I hear that.  I agree with that.  But Jesus' statement hit me another way.  If the Son (children) only do what they see their Father (and mother!) do, what legacy have we left for our children?  What legacy have I left for my children!?!?!?  That's a question that oughta keep parents up at night.  If my kids can only do what they've seen me (and Jody) do, will they be okay in life?  Will they be faithful?  Will they be kind, loving & compassionate?  Will they be a good example for their (future) children?  Wow.  That's a lot to think about.  As a parent, I better listen up!