Tuesday, August 18, 2015

No Lone Rangers

"Then Elijah said to the people, 'I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets number 450!"
(1 Kings 18:22)

We Americans love our heroes.  Whether on the big screen (Iron Man, Captain America, Batman, etc.) or in real life (Firefighters, Police, US Military, etc.)... from our past (Washington, Lincoln, Jackson, etc.), or our more contemporary present (MLK Jr., Caesar Chavez, John Glenn, etc.)... in the world of sports (Babe Ruth, Lou Cherig, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Don Drysdale, etc.) or entertainment (Brando, Hanks, Stallone, Will Smith, etc.).  We love heroic characters and heroic actions.  We love the underdog.  We love fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds.

But sometimes we think a bit more of ourselves than we should.  Okay, maybe quite a bit more than sometimes.  We forget that others may be in the very same place as us (for good or ill).  We think it's up to us to "press ahead" and "go it alone."  But we're wrong.

Elijah can relate.  In 1 Kings 17-19 we get a marvelous story of drought & rain, challenge & danger, fire & water, God & Baal.  Elijah was a prophet of God... who God used powerfully, indeed!  But he thought he was "it."  He thought he was the only one.  The last of the faithful.  The survivor.  He thought he was THE ONLY person left that God could use.  He, too, was wrong.

Even after Obadiah told him that he'd hidden 50 prophets of the LORD from danger (see 1 Kings 18:13), Elijah still told the people that he alone was the only one left who represented God (see 1 Kings 18:22).  And then brought it back up to God later, when he was on the run from Queen Jezebel (see 19:14).  The problem is, that's not true.  God informed Elijah that there were at least 7,000 who had not bowed down to the false God, Baal.  SEVEN THOUSAND!  That's a far cry from the 1 that Elijah thought was left.

Many of us grew up with the understanding that hard work & determination was expected of us.  That's a fine foundation, indeed.  But we also need to build upon a foundation of teamwork, camaraderie, and connection.  We aren't called to be "Lone Rangers."  We sometimes think we're the only ones being faithful to God at times.  Nope.  We actually have no idea about the true faithfulness of others.  So we need to stop trying to compare ourselves to others.  Stop feeling sorry for whatever state of life we find ourselves in.  And start trusting that God is at work in MANY MORE places & lives than we can ever imagine.  Let's be humble.  Let's look to collaborate and share ministry (especially among us pastors!).  I think the world will be a much better place.

The benefits of staying awake

[From 8/11/15]

"Now Peter & his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the 2 men who stood with him."
(Luke 9:32)

Jesus takes his 3 closest disciples (friends!) up on the mountain to pray.  Evidently they were praying a long time so they got sleepy (or maybe they get sleepy when praying, like I do!?!).  That happens, right?  That's completely understandable.  However, that's not where the story ends.  They don't take a nap & call it a day.  No.  Luke tells us "but since they had stayed awake..."  They fought through the sleepiness.  And as a result, they saw Jesus' transformation (along with Moses & Elijah!).

I know about sleeping during prayer times.  I also know about fighting to try and stay awake - especially driving long distances (like coming back home to Palmdale from being "down below").  Sometimes we are indeed "weighed down with sleep," but it's not a good time to be sleeping (like when we're supposed to be driving!).  The easy response is to go with it and sleep - but we might miss something God has for us.  

I don't want to sleep through "God moments" here at Palmdale.  I want to be open, alert, and attentive to the movement of God.  How do I do that?  Well, for starters, get sleep when I'm supposed to be sleeping, so I can stay alert when I need to be alert!  That will account for physical sleepiness.  What about spiritual sleepiness?  I know that I need to make the effort to do my personal devotional times each day, so I can be alert to what God might be saying to me through the Scriptures (and throughout my day).

PRAYER: Help me make YOU a part of every day of my life, LORD... so I don't miss a moment of what you have for me.  AMEN.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Soaked in Love

"...So that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places." 
(Ephesians 3:10)

One of the interesting aspects of living in Palmdale is that numerous times during the week, the local newspaper (The Antelope Valley Press) runs regular articles & letters by people of faith.  It comes in the Editorial/Commentary section of the paper.  Almost daily I'll see letters from folks with a religious background/agenda.  But there are a also regular columns by local clergy.  One is very conservative.  Another is more mainline & progressive.  They always draw a lot of commentary afterwards, too!  Though I may not agree with the content, they're very interesting to read.

Paul, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, mentions the role of the church is to convey "the wisdom of God" (in it's rich variety - something not all Christians seem to grasp) to the "rulers & authorities in heavenly places."  That's a pretty clear mandate.  Don't keep God's wisdom to ourselves, but SHARE it with all - especially those in key leadership positions (BTW, I'd love to research what Paul meant by 'authorities in heavenly places'... so intriguing!).

But just a few verses later, Paul reminds us believers that our whole purpose in life is to have Christ dwell in our hearts as we are being "rooted and grounded in love."  Wow.  I love that.  As we share God's wisdom with others, are we soaking it in love or judgment?  Grace or condemnation?  Personally, I want to be rooted & grounded in love.  It sounds like the much better option! ;)

One of the Family

[From August 8, 2015]

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also memebers of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles & prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone."
(Ephesians 2:19-20)

I'm new to California.  I'm officially a resident: got my CA drivers' license, paying rent & utilities, even registered to vote.  But it will wake me a while before I feel like "a Californian."  I'm a US citizen, so I don't have the "outsiders" struggle that many immigrants face.  That's quite a topic of debate and controversy - not just in CA, but all over this country (though especially in the "border states").  Once someone has achieved "citizen" status, they're in!

The Bible uses citizenship language (along with 'resident alien,' 'stranger,' 'sojourner,' etc.).  This is both a literal descriptions (the Hebrews were resident aliens in Egypt, so they know what it's like; thus, they're to have compassion on the resident aliens who live in Israel!)... and a spiritual one.  Paul writes about God's WELCOME & ACCEPTANCE of us as "citizens" of the Kingdom.  Not just citizens, but "members of the household of God."  That's integration, community & family intimacy.  We join all those "saints" who have come before, because of the work of Jesus.

The church, when at our best, is about INCLUSION, not exclusion.  It's about extending God's loving hospitality & welcome to all, not being gatekeepers at the door of grace.  God can take care of that department just fine, should He choose to do so.  In the meantime, thanks be to God for our inclusion & acceptance.  May we extend that same hospitality to others.  All others!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Don't hit snooze!

"Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread."
(Proverbs 20:13)

I just got a new app for my iPhone. It's called "SLEEP SCIENCE."  It not only measures how much deep sleep I get each night, but analyzes my sleep cycles and will wake me up within 30 minutes of when I want to get up, according to the best time in my cycle.  So far, after only 3 days (or nights!), it's interesting... though I'm not sure of it's effects yet.

Sleep is essential to health & life.  Too often people say they need more sleep... or they're tired all the time... or they had a rough night's sleep... etc.  Sometimes we go & go and neglect getting the proverbial "good night's sleep."  But then there are times we choose to sleep more than we may need to (just because it feels so good!).

Proverbs 20:13 says, "Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty."  I believe this comes out of a time when hard work & determination were seen as a necessity for survival.  Get up early and put in an honest day's work, and you'll be okay.  Today, however, people are able to make a living by a variety of means (and though a variety of hours)... so it may not be as relevant.  However, it got me thinking...

Almost 3 years ago I made a major change in my daily routine.  I realized I needed to be reading more (especially for my role as a pastor & leader).  So I decided to get up at 6am (instead of 7am) to do professional reading.  Which also meant that I needed to get to bed between 10-11pm each night (and I often would stay up much later, usually watching movies from Netflix!).  Although at times this has been challenging, it's also paid off huge dividends.  I've gotten so many books read, and have grown as a leader and pastor because of it.

So look at your sleeping patterns.  Might you be able to alter them in order to accomplish something more?!?