Monday, November 23, 2015

James Taylor & Jesus

[From November 17, 2015]

"The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."
(Psalm 145:18)

James Taylor sang a song titled, 'You've Got A Friend."  The chorus says:
You just call on my 
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running
To see you again
Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there
You've got a friend
We long for friends like that. For true intimacy and deep love and commitment.  If we're fortunate, our spouses fill this role.  So do a few close friends we acquire over our lifetime.  But God also makes this promise to us.

God is near to us all the time.  The God who created us... gifted us... redeemed us... and calls us to become more and more like Him.  He longs to be in intimate relationship with us - if only we'll seek Him.  He'll be a real and present help to "all who call on him in truth."  The challenge (at least for me) is to do this on a daily basis - not just when I think I'm in need.  I'm actually in need of God EVERY day... if the truth be told.  So come, Lord, Jesus.  Be near me!

Heart Replacement Surgery

[From Nov. 16, 2015]

"I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
(Ezekiel 36:35-26)

After judgment & exile, the people of Israel (& Judah) will be restored by the LORD.  Ezekiel chapters 36-37 are filled with wonderful images of restoration.  It begins with a baptism of sorts: a cleansing by water of all the 'uncleanness of idols.'  The people, for centuries, looked to things other than God for sustenance and inspiration.  That will change.

God notes that it's a HEART problem.  The people have a "heart of stone."  We think of that in terms of being uncaring & unfeeling.  God sees it as a heart that doesn't seek him.  It's kind of interesting to think that means it's incapable of functioning the way a heart should.  A stone heart is no good.  But God will replace it with "a heart of flesh."  A heart that works!  It pumps and feels and fills the rest of the body with life.  WHY?  Because it's connected to the LORD and seeks to follow his ways. 

We have "hearts of flesh" when we read God's word.  When we align our lives (and actions) with God's will for us.  I want a heart of flesh, not stone.  I want to truly live... and to empower my congregation to do the same.

Friday, November 6, 2015


"And the 5th angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit... Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth... they have as King over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he's called Apollyon."
(Revelation 9:1,3,11)

In Revelation 9, some kind of heavenly being ('star') falls from heaven to earth and unleashes havoc in the form of mutant locusts.  Any farmer knows what normal locusts can do to crops.  These, however, are diabolical.  Chaos & damage ensue.  The author tells us the name of their king: Abaddon (which means "Destruction" in Hebrew) or Apollyon (which means "Destroyer" in Greek).

We don't know if this "fallen star" is Satan, or some other malevolent being.  What captured my interest this morning was the NAMES of the king: Destroyer/Destruction.  And the locusts bear witness to this truth.  I started thinking about the difference between that name and the "name above all names."  Jesus brings life, hope, grace & restoration.  This enemy simply brings destruction.

Look around.  Where do we see destruction?  Violence & wars.  Hatred & intolerance.  Homelessness.  Broken marriages & families.  Unforgivenss.  Bitterness.  Abuse.  Slavery & trafficking.  Destruction is everywhere.  BUT THAT IS NOT OF GOD!  I want to be an agent of life & life, O Lord.  Help me to walk in your ways.  Bring healing to those who have experienced destruction in their lives.  AMEN.

"We're not worthy!"

[From November 2, 2015]

"...And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?'  And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it.  And I began to weep bitterly...'"
(Revelation 5:2-4a)

Dana Carvey & Mike Meyers' "WAYNE'S WORLD" creation on Saturday Night Live used to have a bit that became a cultural expression.  Whenever they'd interview a famous celebrity (usually a musician), they'd extend their arms and bow down in reverence saying, "We're not worthy!  We're not worthy!"  People all across the US incorporated it into our regular vernacular.

That's what John felt like in Revelation 5.  A great scroll is available, but no one (in heaven or earth) is worthy to open it and read it.  No one, that is, except Jesus (the "Lion of the Tribe of Judah" and "the root of David").  He is the Lamb who was slain for the salvation of the world (all these expressions are used in chapter 5).

I wonder if we've lost this sense of God's holiness and reverence?  We pride ourselves in our accomplishments and endeavors.  But really, none of us are worthy on our own.  We can do great things, of course.  But salvation can only come as GRACE - as a gift.  We can't earn it.  So why not, instead, bow down with reverence & humility before the King?  (Works for me!)


[From Oct. 26, 2015]

"The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah... that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery.  And they obeyed."
(Jeremiah 34:8-10a)

As the Babylonians are bearing down on the nation of Israel, Jeremiah continues to share Gods' word with the people.  He tells the king unequivocally that the city of Jerusalem will fall.  God has ordained it.  But the king himself will not be killed.  As the armies are engaging in battle, another message comes - this time to all the people: release your Hebrew slaves.  Now!  "And they obeyed," the author tells us.  For a time.  "But afterward they turned around and took back the male and female salves they had set free" (v.11).

How curious.  God called them to set the slaves free (Judean only.  God didn't say anything about he foreign slaves, if there were those.).  They did it (praise God!).  Then they recanted.  WHY?  I'm guessing it was because the immediate threat had passed.  I don't know how much time transpired between verses 10 and 11 (weeks? months? years?)... but over time, they reverted to enslaving humans again.  (NOTE: God then instituted a new 7-year rule: that all Hebrews release all slaves every 7 years.  God must've known we'd revert to sinful behavior over time!)

Palmdale UMC has a passion to free modern-day slaves.  We're part of a network of churches and organizations in the Antelope Valley that are working to help bring awareness of human trafficking AND also engage in efforts to combat slavery.  It's an age-old human predilection: to enslave others. 

It's very sad.  Our human condition leans toward sin.  God seeks to lure us away from this devastating practice, but we seem to persist.

LORD, have mercy on us.  May we all work to remove slavery from our society (and lives).  May we value all human lives equally.  May we work to bring freedom to those enslaved.  And may we know that this is YOUR HEART'S DESIRE, too!  AMEN.

Confronting Country

[From Oct. 20, 2015]

"Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, 'This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city...'"
(Jeremiah 26:11)

We Americans are a proud people!  We love our country.  "Land of the free and home of the brave!"  Our forefathers (and foremothers!) fought and died so that we might have true freedom.  It's really one of the things that makes this country great.  And yet, it's almost seen as sacreligious today to utter a word against our country.

Jeremiah lived at a time when his country (Judah, aka "Israel") was going through a difficult transition.  Their glory days were past.  They were about to be attacked by the Babylonians.  It didn't take a rocket scientist to see those signs.  But many were preaching that it would be ok.  God would save them.  Fear not!  Those are comforting words.  But they weren't true.  Jeremiah knew God's plan was to allow the Babylonians to attack (and conquer) Judah.  He also knew the people had failed to follow the LORD and align their lives with His.  So he spoke out against his country, and it almost got him killed.  But it was the truth.

This story reminds me to be courageous in speaking the truth - even it it upsets some because it questions our country's behavior.  We are called to follow God's call on our lives and to obey the laws of the nation we live in.  But sometimes those two come in conflict.  We need to speak up (and speak out) when that happens.

LORD, I love my country!  Thank you for all who have gone before to make this nation great.  And I want to be part of making us great for generations to come.  So help em to speak up whenever I sense a divergence from the path you're calling me.  But give me the humility and wisdom to discern your truth, not simply espouse my personal beliefs.  AMEN.

Do not "argue" the faith

[From Oct. 16, 2015]

"Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence."
(1 Peter 3:15b-16)

It's been said that no one has ever come to the faith (ie. become a Christian) because of an argument.  Within some Christian communities, apologetics is very popular: being able to argue for and defend the faith.  That's never really been my passion.  I actually shy away from engaging in "theological and religious debates."

But the author of 1 Peter calls us to be ready to share with anyone why we have hope in Christ.  That seems reasonable.  The author doesn't encourage folks to seek out potential converts (or combatants)... but rather to simply be ready to share, should you be asked.  "Yet do it with gentleness and reverence."  Don't hit people over the head with your theology.  Don't speak judgment and condemnation to those who aren't "of the same mind."  Gently share why Jesus is your hope and salvation.

I probably can do more when it comes to sharing my faith (hope!) outside of church contexts.  Help me, God, overcome my hesitation by being eager to share my hope in you, whenever asked.  And may I continue to do so with gentleness and reverence.

Boxer shorts for Jesus!

[From Oct. 15, 2015]

"Thus says the LORD: Just so I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem."
(Jeremiah 13:9)

What an interesting "object lesson" God gives Jeremiah.  He's told to buy a loincloth, wear it, then hide it (bury it) in the rocks by the Euphrates.  Then many days later, God calls him to go back and get it... and of course, it's ruined.  "For as the loincloth clings to one's loins," says God, "So I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to cling to me... but they would not listen."  (v.11)

The role of a loin cloth is to cover one's privates.  It's all about modesty, decorum, civility.  Think of it as the ancient equivalent of a good pair of boxer shorts.  But if your boxers don't cling to your legs... if they flap open & "leave nothing to the imagination," then they're practically useless.

We were made to 'cling' to God... not 'do our own thing' and 'flap this way or that.'  It's pride that gets in our way.  We want to do what we want to do - and it often runs counter to 'clinging to God.'  So, like a loincloth left out int he elements, this will eventually lead to our own ruin.

Self-confidence is one of my strengths.  But I need to be careful it doesn't bleed into pride, thinking I can lead my church on my own strength, apart from God.  That kind of pride can lead to ineffective ministry and ruin.  I want to be solid pair of boxer shorts for Jesus!

Let God in!

[From Oct. 13, 2015]

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doing, and let me dwell with you in this place.  Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the Temple of the LORD...'"
(Jeremiah 7:3-4)

If anything or anyone is associated with a church, it's got to be GOD, right?!?!  So how surprising/shocking to read in Jeremiah 7 and hear God say he might be present in church (temple) IF (and only if!) the people change their actions.  It's not enough to just "come to church."  Sure, houses of worship can be divine experiences, but we shouldn't take for granted God's presence.  As if all we have to do is enter the church and God will be there - waiting on our beck and call.

God tells the people in Jeremiah that they need to start living right.  Later, in verses 5-7, God identifies how that should look: act justly, don't oppress foreigners or orphans or widows, don't kill innocent people, don't wander after other gods... all of those actions hurt those who perpetuate them.  And God wants to distance himself from actions like that.

So, as a pastor of a church, I shouldn't just assume God will always be present at church.  I need to actively pursue righteous living!  My role is to help usher people into God's presence.  How tragic if my personal practices actually got in the way of others coming to experience God!  I want to let God in to church!