Thursday, December 10, 2015

For such a time as this...

[From December 7, 2015]

"Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, 'Do not think that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish.  Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.'"
(Esther 4:13-14)

I love the story of Esther.  It's got everything you'd want in a gripping tale: passion, debauchery, a beloved heroine, an evil villain, intrigue & drama, plus a surprising twist at the end!  It's also one of the only books in the Bible where God is never specifically mentioned or referenced.

In chapter 4, Esther has just been informed about the plot against her and her fellow Jews by the evil Haman.  Her cousin (but more like an uncle) Mordecai has sent word, but Ether has replied saying that her hands are, unfortunately, tied... and she can't do anything about it.  Then Mordecai sends one more response: "Help will come.  If not from you, from somewhere else.  But maybe you've been put in this position of influence for such a time as this!?!"

It's that last portion of Mordecai's speech that hit me (again! It always does when I read this!).  He impressed upon Ether that help will come... from somewhere (I see this as one of the testimonies to God's protection & provision, without specifically mentioning God)... but it could be that she came to her position of power & influence "for just such a time as this."

Not many of us can claim that we were a queen (or king) on our resume.  But ALL of us are in some kind of position of influence - if even just in our own families.  And there are moments in our lives - defining moments - where we have opportunities to make significant decisions.  it may feel overwhelming at the time, but it could be that God has put us in that position "for just such a time as this."

I don't know where my ministry at Palmdale UMC will go.  I just got here 5 months ago.  But I can't help but feel like I'm exactly where God needs me to be.  And who knows, maybe I'm called to lead the wonderful people of PUMC for just such a time as this?!?  A time when we've purchased land, but are in the in-between time of paying it off and building for our future.  A time when we average about 340 in worship, but have close to 700+ constituents.  A time when our Preschool is almost at capacity, and we've begun working with Christ Our Savior UMC in Quartz Hill for a new afterschool program!  I'm definitely excited to be here - for just such a time as this.

How has God brought you to a position of influence, for just such a time as this?!?

Friday, December 4, 2015


"Then Jesus said, 'There was a man who had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me."  So he divided his property between them.'"
(Luke 15:11-12)

The story of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the most famous of all of Jesus' parables.  It starts with the WANTS of a son.  He wanted his inheritance.  Only, Dad wasn't dead yet.  Minor details, right?!?  The son asked his dad for it anyway (the equivalent of saying back then, "Dad, I wish you were dead!").  He knew what he wanted: cash, freedom, opportunity!  And as soon as he got it, he was gone.

Jesus tells us the son took his wad of bills and traveled to "a distant country, where he squandered his property in dissolute living."  I think Jesus was intentionally vague with the details - so we are free to fill in the blanks with the things WE think we'd secretly want to be doing, if we had that kind of unrestrained freedom!

We don't know how long this went on.  Days?  Weeks?  Months?  Years?  Decades?  Jesus simply informs us that "when he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need."

This is where the story hit me today.  It's at this point that the son transitions from focusing on his WANTS... and moves to his NEEDS.  He needed shelter, food, water, yes... but even more he probably needed the love, security, and grace that came from his family.  He has the beginnings of this understanding... he devises a plan to return home and talk Dad into hiring him on as a servant.  No grandiose ideas of sonship... just the practical necessity of fulfilling his NEEDS.

But God... I mean, the Father... doesn't operate that way.  When the son returned home, his Father swept him up in an envelope of grace and restoration.  He returned to what he had always had before he left, just never realized!

It's easy during the month of December to focus on our WANTS.  We're making our lists and checking them twice.  But maybe instead of thinking about those WANTS, we should prayerfully discern what our NEEDS truly are (or at least ask God for whatever they might be!).  That's where God wants to provide for us.

May you (and I!) discover this timeless truth before we wander off to some "distant country."  AMEN.

Like a parents' sorrow...

[From December 3, 2015]

"And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that when they look on the one whom they've pierced, they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn."
(Zechariah 12:10)

The book of Zechariah is an Old Testament book dealing with (among other topics) the inability of the leaders of Israel to properly care for their people.  They've done a lousy job, says God.  A terrible job!  A reprehensible job!  So God is going to allow panic, disunity, and destruction.  In short, their world is about to be turned upside down.

But that's not the end of the story.  God will also strengthen the weak!  God will embolden and empower the people to return to Him with their whole heart.  They'll become an inspiration to others as they pass through the waters of distress & chaos.

And then we get to a particular verse.  12:10 notes the people will have compassion as they mourn "the one whom they've pierced."  This was written a few hundred years (or more) before Jesus.  And yet, he would be the one "pierced."  Zechariah tells us the people will mourn for him like they weep over a firstborn child.  That hearkens back to the Passover story... where God brought the Hebrews out of slavery and captivity after the 10th plague: the death of the firstborn children.  As they heard the wailing of the Egyptian parents, the Israelites moved on to safety.  To remember this properly, every year they were to observe Passover, sacrificing a lamb and sharing in a meal together.

Now Jesus became that sacrificial lamb.  Jesus was "the firstborn son" who was pierced - for our sins & transgressions.  And here, hundreds of years before Jesus, God is preparing the hearts of his people. What about us?  Do our hearts break for Jesus, as if he were our own child, pierced unto death?  Are we passionate about his life, death, and resurrection?  Not just informed.  Not just interested.  Not just aware.  But passionate?  Truly passionate?!?

PRAYER: You are my LIFE... my breath... my HOPE... my SALVATION, Oh God.  Sometimes I take that too lightly... or for granted.  Renew my passion & commitment to you.  Empower me to share that excitement with others!  AMEN.

Better than a Genie!

[From November 30, 2015]

"So I say to you, Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you..."
(Luke 11:9)

Most of us have no problem knowing what we want.  From fantasizing what we'd ask for if we ever found a Genie in a bottle ("no wishing for more wishes!") to our "wish list" on Amazon or iTunes, we know what we want.  Which might be why we have such a love/hate relationship with Luke 11:9.  It's the "Ask/Seek/Knock" passage of Jesus.

We want to believe that all we need to do is ASK God, and our requests ("prayers") will be granted.  And yet, anyone who's ever prayed knows that's not always true.  "Maybe you didn't ask for the right things" we posit... or "maybe it wasn't prayed 'in Jesus' Name'?"

(NOTE: I've always believe the Seek/Find part of this verse, by the way.  God doesn't 'hide' from us.  We wander away from God.  God spends our lifetime drawing close to us... wooing us... compelling us to turn to Him!  Once we put the effort in, God is easily "found."  So that part never bothered me.  Now, back to the troubling part...)

But I noticed something today in v.13.  Two verses prior, Jesus reminds us that we, as human parents, give our children what they need (bread, fish, eggs), not surprisingly bad & inappropriate gifts (like stones, snakes, or scorpions!).  Then he concludes with: "...How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him."

So Jesus doesn't promise that if we just ask, God will give us whatever we want (or ask for).  No, he promises we will receive.  What?  THE HOLY SPIRIT!  God's self.  The presence of God with us here and now.  SO we may want peace, healing, a job, restoration of a relationship, financial security, better housing, recognition, etc.  But God promises to give us Himself, if only we'll ask for help.  Who knows, maybe the job, healing, restoration, or money we're asking for might actually be a stone, snake or scorpion to us!?!  Our loving Father knows what we truly need... and that's His Spirit.

So go ahead and ASK, SEEK, and KNOCK, friends!  Be bold!  No Shame!  But don't be surprised if you don't get exactly what you ask for.  You might just get something infinitely better - the presence of God Himself!!!  AMEN.


[From November 23, 2015]

"The devil said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.'  Jesus answered him, 'It is written, "One does not live by bread alone."'"
(Luke 4:3-4)

The story of Jesus' wilderness temptation in Luke is a curious one. A lot of questions arise: why did the Holy Spirit lead him into the wilderness, if he was going to be tempted?  Was Jesus truly tempted (like we humans are) or did he know all along he'd prevail?  And was the 40 day period of fasting tied to the temptations (i.e. being spiritually strong and/or physically weak)?

We could also examine each individual temptation to see what it was about each one that may have been actually tempting to Jesus (stones to bread, authority over kingdoms, angelic protection).  That's a worthwhile exercise, but not where my heart connected to the text today.

What struck me was Jesus' use of Scripture.  Every time the devil challenged him to consider a temptation, Jesus responded from Scripture.  "One does not live by bread alone" (Deuteronomy 8:3).  "Worship the Lord and serve only him" (Deuteronomy 6:13).  "Do not put the Lord to the test" (Deuteronomy 6:16).  And after the second temptation, even the devil started quoting scripture (Psalm 91:11-12).  But Jesus was so grounded in God's written word, he was able to resist.

Temptations will always be a part of life.  No one is exempt form them, not even Jesus!  It's not about "being a good person" or always choosing to "do the right thing," or even "having enough self-control."  Those are all fine characteristics, of course.  Jesus had those too.  But what I learn from this story is that Jesus' grounded in Scripture was his bedrock.  That gave him the framework to make decisions for himself and his life.

I've said over and over how important Scripture Journaling has been to my life this past decade or so.  I believe it!  The challenge, of course, is putting the time into reading, studying, and reflecting on it... so that it can become MY BEDROCK and foundation, just like it was for Jesus!

PRAYER: Lord, may Your Words of LIFE in Scripture be my anchor.  May I have the discipline to spend time with you on a regular basis. I want to walk in your truth every day.

A Response

[From November 19, 2015]

"Then the angel showed me the river of water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.  On either side of the river is the tree of life with its 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."
(Revelation 22:1-2)

It's been a rough week for the world.  The bombing of Muslims by ISIS in Lebanon last Thursday... the Paris ISIS attacks on Friday... Retaliation attacks & air strikes... another Boko Harum massacre in Nigeria... We are a world torn apart by violence, war & hatred.

Some people co-opt elements of their faith to promote hatred & violence.  I pray that those in the Christian church are not in that camp.  The end of Revelation (the very last book in the Bible) is all about peace, healing, and life.  Not death & destruction.

There's a RIVER OF LIFE, flowing through the heavenly city.  There's a TREE OF LIFE in the middle of the city... and the leaves of the tree are for the HEALING of the nations.  Healing, life, grace... that's what's we're about.  In the aftermath of the ISIS attacks, may we continue to sow peace, hope and love.  For that is of God!

More Valuable than Gold

[From November 18, 2015]

"I saw the temple in the city, for its temple is the LORD God the Almighty and the Lamb."
(Revelation 21:22)

One of the characteristics that people think of when they think of heaven (besides fat little angels playing harps on clouds) is streets of gold.  That's actually biblical (Rev.21:21), as John had a vision of heaven.  But more than that, or the pearls at every one of the 12 gates (which is also biblical - same verse)... the part that most intrigued me was v.22, which says heaven has no central worship space.  No temple.  No church.  No gathering space for people to come together to connect to God.

At first this is quite curious.  We Christians have been taught to make worship (at a church) a priority.  We are called to gather together in community to be the body of Christ.  But John's vision of heaven has no temple - no central worship space where we can be "the body."  Why?  "For its temple is the LORD GOD the Almighty and the Lamb."  There is no need to come to one place, for God is there!  Everywhere!  God's presence fills "the new Jerusalem."

Imagine a time when the presence of God is so powerful that you feel and experience it all the time.  No hatred.  No violence.  No pain.  Just peace, grace, hope, joy, and love forever.  THAT'S something even more valuable than streets of gold!  May we work towards that being a reality.  AMEN.