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...