Thursday, April 30, 2015


"The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 'Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water.  Thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock."
(Numbers 20:7-8)

It's an interesting story, this one.  The people are thirsty.  There's no water.  They're grumbling.  Again.  God gives Moses a way out - a way to provide for the needs of the people.  Moses does that.  But not exactly the way God asked him to.  So he got scolded.  It's a curious story.

The peculiarities of what went wrong are this: Moses was told to command the rock to yield water.  Instead, he used the infamous staff (ala 10 Plagues & Red Sea fame) and hit the rock.  Twice. 

So was the original plan more God-honoring (meaning the people would know the water was a gift from God with mere words, but might attribute the precision of the hitting to Moses' doing)?  Or was it simply the fact that they didn't follow God's commands explicitly?

But there's one other factor: the words spoken by Moses.  "Listen you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" (v.10).   Could it be Moses was taking all the credit for this gift of water here, giving none to God?  This could be a far greater sin.  I know how easy it is to assume all the blessings in life come from hard work and personal "talent".  WRONG!  It's all from God.  As a pastor, I need to make sure that I give God the credit for all of the success and blessings in my ministry.  It's really not about me at all.  It's about God.  Period.

Palmdale House Search

[From April 27, 2015]

"Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations."
(Psalm 90:1)

Jody & I got back from a trip where we spent 3 days in Palmdale, CA last week.  Though I wasn't able to get together with many of the Palmdale UMC members (our Conference asks that pastors who are moving severely limit contact with the new church prior to July 1), we did get to look for a house to rent.  Rev. Jim Powell (the current PUMC pastor) and his lovely wife, Stephanie, were very gracious hosts and helped us in this endeavor.

Jim drove us around and gave us a whirlwind tour of the Palmdale community.  He showed us areas he thought would be good for us to live in (and some areas we should probably think twice about before choosing). 

Then we saw some 3-bedroom places... some 4-bedroom places... even a 5-bedroom house (though a couple of the bedrooms in that home were super-small!).  A few of the places showed great promise & potential.  But none appeared to be 'the one' (Jody said we'd know it when we walked in!).

We won't be back before July 1.  We may or may not find a place by then.  But Psalm 90 reminds me not to worry.  GOD IS OUR HOME.  We'll be fine.  God will provide the right place in His time.  AMEN.


[From April 13, 2015]

"Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria.  He was an eloquent man, well-verses in scriptures.  He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus..."
(Acts 18:24-25)

Some people are just better speakers than the rest of us.  That's no secret.  We all can list folks that we admire for their oratory prowess.  Pastors, politicians, entertainers... some simply seem to be gifted with great speaking skills.

Apollos was one of those types of people.  The author of Acts tells us that he was a native of Alexandria, well-versed in Scripture, and eloquent... who spoke with "burning enthusiasm."  Sounds like all the makings of a charismatic leader.  But there have been more than a few charismatic leaders who've led people astray over the centuries.  Even ones who were "well-versed in Scripture" (anyone remember Jim Jones?!?).

The note that I picked up on today re: Apollos, however, was that he "taught accurately the things concerning Jesus."  Wow.  That's a great thing to be known for, isn't it?  That we represent Jesus accurately: His love and grace... his forgiveness & reconciliation... his challenge and call to give ourselves completely to God... and to love others unconditionally.  I'd be honored to have that said of me, for sure.

The very best?

[From April 10, 2015]

"If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish..."
(Leviticus 1:3)

A couple of months ago I found a small gift-bag outside the church office door.  Someone had left it prior to our office opening for the day.  That's not an uncommon practice, actually.  Some folks are off to work prior to the regular work hours, and drop off items for donation or use later in the day. 

Inside this particular package there were a lemon scone mix, a jar of lemon curd (from the UK, no less!), and a jar of sweet cream (another UK delicacy).  It had all the makings of a breakfast party in one little bag!  I was so excited!! It wasn't the kind of items usually requested for our food pantry, so I assumed this was a gift to the office.  I took it home anticipating the joy that would ensue whenever we dove into it.

Last week visitors from England came to stay with us.  I thought it would be the perfect time to mix up the scones!  Jody assembled the mix as directed, but they didn't look quite right going into the oven.  Then totally didn't look right coming out of the oven!!  That's when we examined the bag again.  Expiration date on the scone mix: 2013.  D'oh!  No wonder it didn't come out right.  The yeast/leavening agent had expired.  We checked the expiration dates on the jars... also 2013.  Dang.

Too often, it seems, we fail to give our very best to the LORD.  Leviticus 1:3 commands that the Israelites give the very best of their livestock to God as an offering (an unblemished male).  Why? Because God give us His best all the time.  But we, as followers, often give God what's leftover, unwanted or outdated.  We justify our actions with "something is better than nothing."  WRONG.  God deserves our very best.  All the time.  No exceptions.

Just think what God might be able to do with our very best!!!

"I solemnly swear..."

[From April 9, 2015]

"O Lord, who may abide in your tent?  Who may dwell on your holy hill... (those) who stand by their oath, even to their hurt..."
(Psalm 15:4)

Psalm 15 lists 10 characteristics/actions of the righteous who will be admitted into God's Temple.  I've seen this list many times before.  It includes such things like: those who do right, walk blamelessly, speak truth, don't slander or do evil, etc.  Today, however, when I read it I noticed an item that I hadn't before: "those who stand by their oath, even to their hurt."

There's an old saying: "My word is my bond."  In many old movies, this sentiment is wide-spread.  Making a promise or commitment and sticking with it is vitally important.  Today, however, I'm not so sure.  Athletes & coaches are frequently trying to renegotiate contracts (or simply refuse to report when they think they've 'outperformed' their current contract).  Politicians make campaign promises, yet don't always feel the same compulsion to follow up on those promises once in office.  Divorce is more common now than ever.  (Note: I'm not saying there aren't legitimate reasons for any of the above instances... it's simply an observation.)

The psalmist calls us to keep our oaths.  Even when it goes against our best interests.  Why? Because God does.  We might even find a new blessing we didn't even expect!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A simple insight

"And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and brought the LORD's offering to be used for the tent of the meeting, and for all its service, and for the sacred vestments."
(Exodus 35:21)

God inspired Moses to build a Tabernacle - a place where His Spirit would dwell among them on earth.  It would be mobile - able to travel with the people as they moved from place to place (per God's command, of course).  But traveling out in the wilderness, there aren't many Home Depots for them to get their proper supplies.  How does Moses handle this challenge?  He starts the first-recorded stewardship campaign in the Bible!

Early in chapter 35, Moses asked for an offering. He listed all the supplies they'd need... and he added "whoever is of a generous heart" to bring the Lord's offering.  So simple:
  1. State a need...
  2. Recognize that the gifts we bring are ultimately for God...
  3. Appeal to those with a generous heart...
Generosity is something that is shaped over time.  It's a lifestyle habit.  It involves believing God is a God of abundance - not scarcity.  There's always enough (no MORE THAN ENOUGH!) to go around, if it's something God has ordained!  It recognizes that everything we have is from God, and we are mere caretakers of it.  It's something we teach our children so they grow in to generous adults.

When the offering was collected, the author of Exodus tells us they received far more materials than they actually needed (see Ex. 36:5!).  What a blessing!  What was the secret?  (Nothing along the lines of rocket science, that's for sure.)  The narrator tells us it was two simple things:
  1. Everyone whose heart was stirred...
  2. Everyone whose spirit was willing...
I love this.  First, they needed to know there was a need.  Moses explained what the Tabernacle would be, and why it was important.  Those who truly cared had their hearts stirred.  But it's not enough to simply KNOW of a need (however vital).  We also have to be WILLING to do something about it.  This is where generosity comes into play.

I'd venture to guess that just about every church in our country already has the potential resources available to do the ministry God has called them to do.  The question is, are the people of that church both aware of the needs (hearts stirred) and ready to respond with their resources (spirits willing)?

What a great question... and challenge.  How will WE respond?!?!

Sex 101

[From April 1, 2015... no joke!]

"When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife."
(Exodus 22:16)

We live at a time when premarital sex is seen to be more the norm than the exception.  Even a cursory look at popular tv shows, movies, novels, etc. reveals this to be true.  Consensual sex between two adults seems quite common - at least according to popular culture.

"Back in the day" (ie. Old Testament times), it was much different.  Sex = marriage.  In a traditional Jewish marriage ceremony, it wasn't official until a couple consummated the relationship.  In fact, the entire wedding party (and guests) would wait outside the couple's bedroom while they made love for the first time.  THEN THE WEDDING PARTY OFFICIALLY STARTED!

The book of Exodus also records an interesting law in chapter 22.  If a man sleeps with an unattached woman, they subsequently HAD to get married!  The onus was on the man, too, to do the right thing.  He'd even have to pay her family the "bride-price" to make her an honorable woman in the eyes of her parents.  (NOTE: Exodus 22 says if a man "seduces," not coerces.  So this didn't apply to rape.  It had to be consensual!)

Sex = marriage.

Wow.  That feeling might change the way our society looks at sex (and the intimate union of two people), don't you think?!?

Is it a "God-thing"?

[From March 31, 2015]

"...I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them - in that case you may even be found fighting against God."
(Acts 5:38-39)

Peter & some of his fellow leaders in the early church were routinely harassed & arrested for speaking about Jesus.  It upset the Jewish authorities.  They admonished Peter & Co. to "cease & desist" when it came to the Jesus talk.  They wouldn't.  This caused many of the religious leaders much frustration & anger.  So much so, they were willing to contemplate killing them!  But a wise leader, Gamaliel, counseled restraint.  "STOP!" he said.  "If they're doing these things on their own, their cause will fail" (and he cited examples of movements that died out over time).  "But if it's a God-thing, there's nothing we can do!"

Wise advice indeed.  We humans tend to get all "worked up" over one development or another.  We get agitated, upset, angry... and sometimes teeter on the brink of doing something stupid (okay, maybe more than sometimes!).  In the end, God will prevail.  Our job should be to discern when something important is a "God-thing" or just a "human-thing."  We need to pay attention to the God-things, and not let the human-things take up too much of our energy.