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!?!)