Monday, February 1, 2016


"No distrust made (Abraham) waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised."
(Romans 4:20-21)

God called Abraham at age 75 to begin a journey that would end not only in a new physical location (far from his hometown), but also as the father of a "great nation."  He was also childless at this time, by the way.  It took 25 years for that promise to be fulfilled.  TWENTY-FIVE YEARS!  Wow. 25 might not seem like too long when you're young... but Abe was 75 already!  Genesis records a number of twists & turns in his storyline along the way.  But Abraham made it.  He persevered!  And Paul, when he wrote the letter to the church in Rome, lifted Abraham up as an example of faith for us.

Paul shows us how Abraham didn't waver in his trust of God.  He gave glory to God, being "fully convinced" that God was able to do what he had promised.  Paul doesn't say Abraham thought it was actually possible for him to become the father of a great nation (at age 75+!)... he said that Abraham believed GOD WAS ABLE to do it.  It's a HUGE difference.

Palmdale UMC has property to eventually build on.  15 acres worth!  We still owe ~$700K on just the land. Building seems light years away right now.  But is God able to see this project through to completion?  ABSOLUTELY!  That's where I need to be focusing my energy and prayers.  Thanks Abraham.  Thanks Paul.  Thanks God!

Mixed Emotions

[From January 30, 2016]

"So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy..."
(Matthew 28:8)

On that very first Easter morning, two women came to Jesus' tomb expecting to find a body.  It wasn't there.  Instead, they found an angel who told them two things: 1) "Don't be afraid!", 2) "Go tell the disciples that Jesus is risen, and he will meet you in Galilee!"  Matthew tells us that they left "with fear and great joy."  So they were excited, but also afraid.  Interesting that they'd have these seemingly opposite emotions.  We often feel like we need to be 100% behind something to support it, don't we?  This may provide another model for us.

We have a property we've purchased here at Palmdale United Methodist Church.  15 acres.  We still owe about $700K on that loan.  We can't start building anything on it until we pay that off first.  I'm new to the church.  It wasn't my vision to buy the land.  But it is exciting to think about what could become of it!  Then again, $700K is a LOT of money.  I'm honestly a bit worried about how we'll get all that money.  And yet, I'm excited about the possibility.  Could it be that Jesus will meet me "in Galilee" (ie. somewhere in this in-between set of feelings and emotions I have?)  Maybe I don't have to be 100% sure of where the funding will come from before I set out in faith!??!

PRAYER: "Fear and great joy."  I definitely have that, Lord!  Thank you for calling me to Palmdale UMC.  It's definitely outside my comfort zone when it comes to raising this kind of money.  But with you, all things are possible.  So shepherd me as I walk with you through this.  Don't let my fear overtake your call on my life and the life of this church.  AMEN.

That's all?!?

[From January 29, 2016]

"Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to he chief priests and said, 'What will you give me if I betray him to you?' They paid him 30 pieces of silver.  And from that moment, he began to look for an opportunity to betray him."
(Matthew 26:14-16)

It was Dante who conjectured of all the regions of hell, the one at the deepest core would be reserved for Judas Iscariot - the betrayer of Jesus.  Indeed, Judas has quite a black mark on his name because of his actions during Jesus' final week on earth.

Scripture (the book of John) tells us that Judas was the treasurer of the disciples.  He handled the money.  We don't know if they had much money between them.  Did they pool their savings when they started?  Did they get donations along the way?  Were there wealthy benefactors?  We're not sure.  But Judas must have been good with finances & numbers.  Is it surprising, then, to discover that it was money that became his downfall (or at least his temptation)?

30 pieces of silver.  It was worth about 120 denarii.  A denarius was a day's wage.  So this was 1/3 a year's salary.  Did Judas negotiate that figure or just take their first offer?  Was he that desperate for money, or just disillusioned with Jesus (or as his role as a disciple?)?  One third of a year's salary doesn't seem like it's that much, actually.  Especially for something as big as betraying the Savior of the World!

I've heard a pastor once say that whatever our strength is - whatever we're best at or most interested in or excel around - THAT has the potential of becoming our downfall.  Like Judas and money.  As I reread this story today, I wondered... what would I be most likely to betray Jesus over?  I don't think it would be money (though the $1.5B Powerball Lottery drawing earlier this month started me fantasizing about acquiring incredible wealth).  Would it be fame & celebrity?  Though I like to be liked (who doesn't?!) I've never really sought to move in those circles.  Sex seems to be another lure that many pastors succumb to.  Maybe it's because we're in the business of loving others & empathizing with folks... is sexual indiscretions this taken to the extreme?  Actually, LOTS of people succumb to this.  That's no excuse, though.  I pray that my marriage with Jody and our love for each other will keep me vigilant in this department.

I don't know what I might betray Jesus for.  Hopefully nothing.  But if one of Jesus' closest friends could do it, I'm not immune.  How tragic that Judas gave him up for a mere 30 pieces of silver... and then once he got it, realized his mistake.  He never even "enjoyed" the "reward."  (Which tells me that the lure of temptation rarely satisfies.)

Lord, I want to enjoy you, not temptation.  Keep me loyal and faithful.  AMEN.

Let it go.

[From January 25, 2016]

"Then the disciples approached and said to him, 'Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?'  Jesus answered, 'Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.  Let them alone; they are the blind guides of the blind...'"
(Matthew 15:12-14a)

The religious leaders and Jesus often didn't get along.  Usually, it was because of something Jesus said that offended them.  They also would try to trip Jesus up with questions and rhetoric, but usually he rebuffed their attempts to discredit them.  Which made them even more upset.

One time, Jesus' disciples noticed this exchange, and told Jesus how offended the religious leaders were.  I can relate.  I was raised to be polite and respectful of others.  I tend to avoid direct confrontations with people who I have a difference of opinion.  But Jesus wasn't worried.  He told the disciples to leave them alone.  "Every plant my heavenly Father hasn't planted will be uprooted."

That's really wise advice.  Don't kowtow to the feelings and opinions of those in power.  Don't worry about offending when speaking the truth.  If it's not of God, it won't last... it won't be of eternal value.  AND YET... I must be careful that I'm being "planted by God," so I won't be uprooted, myself!  I can't assume that just because I'm a pastor (or even a Christian) that all of my actions/thoughts/feelings are of God.  May God help prune from me that which is not planted by him!

A blessed dichotomy

[From January 19, 2016]

"We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have over flowed in a wealth of generosity on their part."
(2 Corinthians 8:1-2)

People love to be around those who are generous.  Initially, I'd venture, it's because we all like to be on the receiving end of generosity.  Who doesn't?!?  But a generous spirit is contagious... captivating... inspiring!  When we spend significant time around generous people, we can't help but want to be generous, too.

The apostle Paul lived a life of generosity.  He reflected the life of Jesus, whose very nature embodied generosity.  In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul lifted up the church in Macedonia as another example of a generous lifestyle.  Though he doesn't give details, he acknowledges they've been through a tough time... a "severe ordeal of affliction."  And though they had little financially, they responded generously and with joy!

The three times I've been to the Philippines, I've been struck by this same dichotomy: extreme poverty (in some areas) surpassed only by their extreme joy... and generosity!  They've taught me so much about what it means to be a Christian!  I want to live into their example of faithfulness.  And I want to help others live into that blessed dichotomy, too.

For Building Up

[From January 15, 2016]

"So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church."
(1 Corinthians 14:12)

I was watching a short video on Facebook yesterday.  Steve Harvey was talking to the audience after filming an episode of FAMILY FEUD.  He was encouraging them to find whatever "gift" God has blessed them with ("everyone has been given something they excel in by God!"), and dare to "jump."  Dare to be bold, take a risk, and use that gift to the fullest.  Don't sit on it.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, is talking about God's giftings, too.  "Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts," he writes in 14:1.  He then lays out the difference between speaking in tongues (a "just you and God" moment) and prophesy (bringing an encouraging word to others).  Midway through the chapter he calls them to use their gifts "for building up the church."

We're all good at something.  It may not be a "traditional" gift that most think about in regards to church (preaching, teaching, serving, etc.).  But what a focus: do whatever you do well, in order to build up others (ie. the church).  How can I help my congregation re-envision how they can be a blessing to others in the unique ways God has wired them?  That's my call as a pastor.  Lord, help me do this! 


[From January 11, 2016]

"Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and Stewards of God's mysteries."
(1 Corinthians 4:1)

"So besides preach, what else do you do as a pastor?"  It's a question I'm asked from time to time.  (Nothing like having a job that only requires you to work a couple of hours on Sunday morning, right?!?!)  Well, there's prepping for the sermon; worship planning; pastoral care & administration; committee and special project work; prayer; leadership development; stewardship & discipleship planning; staff oversight... just to name a few of the things I do besides preach.

But Paul lists another item in the job description of pastoral leaders: "servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries."  The servants of Christ title isn't new.  Jesus talked frequently about a life of servanthood.  But the second part surprised me: stewards of God's mysteries.  Indeed, God works in mysterious ways!  And God's ways are not our ways.  Whether it's the mystery of Holy Communion, the power of baptism, the incomprehensible gift of grace (or many other aspects of God's love and nature), as a pastor I'm to "steward" this.  To care for it.  Share it.  Protect it.  Highlight it.  I'm to make sure others in my care are fully aware of and experiencing God's mysteries.  

It all starts with scripture.  God continues to speak through words penned by humans (inspired by God, of course) written thousands of years ago.  Wow.  May I continue to be a good steward of that.

Pack snacks.

[From January 4, 2016]

"On the following day, when they came from Bethany, (Jesus) was hungry.  Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it.  When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  He said to it, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again!' And his disciples heard it."
(Luke 11:12-14)

Weird story here.

Jesus is in Jerusalem.  It's his final week of life.  He knows where this is leading.  He's going to have to confront the religious leaders.  They'll be his demise.  He's entered the city to great fanfare the day before... but now the "messy part" begins.  On the morning of day two in the city, on his way in, he passes a fig tree.  He's hungry (must've forgot to grab breakfast before he left for the day).  But there aren't any figs on the tree.  Bummer, right?!?  But then he curses the tree (note: when they pass this same tree the following day, it's withered!).  But here's the kicker.  Luke tells us "it was not the season for figs."

So why did Jesus get so upset?  Surely he knew it wasn't "FIG SEASON" (cue Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd in the classic "Wabbit Season/Duck Season" bit!).  Did Jesus expect the laws of nature to bend to his will?  Or is this merely an example of Jesus' humanity?  We all get hungry...and frustrated... at times. 

Now, granted, in verses 20-24, Luke uses the withered tree as an opportunity for Jesus to teach on the power of faith and prayer.  So maybe THAT was the primary reason for this incident.  But still, it's a curious story, isn't it?

It's not a very spiritual interpretation, but I think I'm going with the humanity of Jesus here.  We all get frustrated, even Jesus!  (This could also be the makings of a first-century SNICKERS commercial - 'You're not yourself, Jesus, when you're hungry!')  Maybe this is a call to patience... when those around me are frustrated and disappointed, don't judge them too harshly.  Even Jesus had a few less-than-stellar moments.  It happens to the best of us.  Persevere.  Have grace for others.  (And pack snacks, next time, Jesus!)


[From December 28, 2015]

"And so it was that all were brought safely to land."
(Acts 27:44b)

One sentence.  A simple comment.  Actually, a statement.  The kind we make all the time.  And yet, filled with such depth of faith.  Paul is being transported form Caesarea to Rome.  That seemingly simple statement sounds so nonchalant.  And yet the reality is incredible.

Fourteen weeks at sea.  Two ships.  Numerous storms.  Jettisoning cargo.  Fear of death.  Potential escape thwarted.  Almost killed by the guards.  Their own "last supper" type meal.  Shipwrecked.  Swimming to shore.  Incredible journey!  It's the stuff entire movies are made of.  And Paul concludes by saying, "And so it was that all were brought safely to land."  Wow.  What a perspective!

If you would have asked anyone on that ship with Paul, at various stages of their journey, how they were feeling or what was taking place, I'm guessing they would NOT have said, "We're moving toward safety."  Nope.  Panic... fear... uncertainty... discouragement, yet.  But moving towards safety? Not in the least.

But Paul had a different perspective.  Granted, Acts was penned some time AFTER the events took place.  So time helped grant him some wisdom.  Nonetheless, this speaks volumes to me.  Oftentimes when I'm in the midst of a challenging or difficult situation, I focus on the negative (don't we all?).  Or at least on the obstacles in my way.  But this challenged me to not be so quick to rush to judgment.  Paul looked at the bigger picture: GOD WAS BRINGING THEM TO SAFETY!  It didn't look like that most of the stages along the way. But it was!

Sometimes we need to take a step back from the situation we're in and ask the question: What is God doing through all of this?  We need a new perspective.  A holy vision. Maybe we can't see it "in the moment."  But if we withhold judgment, we might just be surprised at what we find.

PRAYER: Lord, give me a bigger vision.  Help me to see a fraction of how You see what I'm going through.  Keep me from rushing quickly to judgment.  Instead, let me put my hope and trust in You.  For I know that You are working for good in my life and in the world!  AMEN.

{less than}

[From December 24, 2015]

"Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves."
(Job 11:6b)

There's an interesting saying, "With friends like that, who needs enemies!"  Job can relate.  The poor guy has had his life turned upside down.  For no apparent reason, Job has lost his property, possessions, children, and health.  He was faithful, upright, and kind.  But calamity and misfortune struck nonetheless.  Now he's having a hard time figuring out why.

One of the prevailing notions "back in the day" (ie. biblical times!) was if misfortune befell you, it must be God punishing you for your sin.  Job has 3 "friends" come over to commiserate with him.  Each of them spouts the prevailing wisdom: "What did you do to deserve this, Job?!?!"  Friend #3 (Zophar) is the harshest.  It was clear to him that Job was a sinner (aren't we all!).  "Just confess it and everything will be right!" he chides Job.  In fact, Zophar goes so far as to say, "Know that God exacts of you less than you guilt deserves!"  Meaning, be happy... you could have had it much, much worse!

Some (many?) people still have Zophar's mindset.  If bad things are happening, it's God's punishment.  In the end, the book of Job leaves us with the message that somethings we'll just never understand.  Stuff happens.  Often without rhyme or reason.  But Zophar's statement is true: God does exact less than our guilt deserves.  That's where Jesus comes in.  He took our guilt away.  Merry Christmas!


[From December 21, 2015]

"My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make melody.  Awake, my soul!"
(Psalm 108:1)

Most of us "younger generation" folk use our cell phones as alarm clocks these days.  We fear no power outages in the night... as long as our phones have enough charge, our bodies will wake up.  But as I was reading Psalm 108 today, I was reminded of another "awakening" that we need (which no cell phone can remedy): OUR SOULS!

"Awake, my soul!" says the Psalmist.  Wow!  I wonder what he recognized about himself when his soul wasn't "awake"?  It may have had nothing to do with feeling tired, sluggish, or lethargic at all.  Maybe he lost his passion... his sense of awe and wonder?  Maybe the sunrise or sunset no longer evoked something within him?  Maybe he wasn't touched by music... or by a child's laugh?  Maybe art wasn't interesting to him?  Maybe he wasn't drawn to conversation with the ones he loved?  Maybe when someone asked him how he was doing, he simply responded with, "fine"?

And then he knew that wasn't how God wired us.  Thus, the call/command: "AWAKE, MY SOUL!"  What a great cry whenever our daily alarm goes off!  Awake, indeed!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The power of food

[From December 15, 2015]

"Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of the people."
(Acts 2:46-47a)

The early church did church before they had a church... building, that is.  After the day of Pentecost (aka The Birthday of the Church!), the followers of Jesus began spreading like wildfire!  The book of Acts chronicles their endeavors.

What's interesting is that they didn't engage in some multi-faceted "outreach program."  They simply lived into the joy that comes from a relationship with Jesus.  They:
  1. Gathered for worship...
  2. Ate their meals together in each others' homes (also remembering Jesus' last supper with them)...
  3. Were generous and shared their resources with those in need...
Evidently, this was contagious.  People were drawn to this generosity, joy, and willingness to share.

Today people freak out hearing that the early church "sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to all in need."  We're probably way too attached to our stuff, to be honest.  But we can still be generous in so many other ways - including "eating with glad and generous hearts."  Pray before meals.  Buy a friend lunch.  Truly enjoy the food you're eating.  And eat with others.  Often.  Let your joy be evident (and contagious).  It sounds like a small thing... but it can make a big difference in someone else's life.  There is power in food.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The First Sermon?

[From December 14, 2015]

"And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them."
(Nehemiah 8:12)

What do you do when a group of people (in this case, about 50K!) have been "away" from God for an extended period of time and come back "home"?  The Israelites who returned from Babylonian captivity faced just that. Most had grown up in Babylon and only heard stories (from parents and grandparents) about he worship life in Israel.  Now they were home.

After Ezra & Nehemiah helped rebuild the temple, it's interesting that they gathered the people in a large square outside the temple.  Instead of offering sacrifices and reciting prayers (which happened inside the temple), they stared a new practice: SCRIPTURE READING!  Ezra brought "the book of the Law" (probably the Torah: Genesis to Deuteronomy) and read it out loud to the people.  The people stood to hear it (out of reverence & respect?).  The Levites (13 specifically named) "helped the people to understand the law" as it was read (sermons?).  And then the leaders sent the people home with instructions to go with joy, not sorrow.  And the author tells us the people went home to celebrate and rejoice "because they had understood the words that were declared to them."

This is the goal of every preacher, isn't it?  To lift up a passage of scripture... to help people interpret & understand it... and then to send them home with an action plan (some way the passage will impact their life).  All the while, they "understood the words that were declared to them."

The challenge, of course, is to keep the interpretation focused & clear... not to bit off more than folks can chew on in one setting (or more than I can possibly cover in one sermon!).  But when this happens well, then God's transformation has the best chance to take hold.

PRAYER: Thank you, God, for reminding me in this story just how powerful reading the Scriptures can be to us.  Continue to help em refine my "interpretation" of passages as I preach, so others can leave worship having understood what was read.  AMEN.

Monday, January 11, 2016


[From Dec. 10, 2015]

"O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  but I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.  O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time on and forevermore."
(Psalm 131)

It's the season of Advent - the month of preparation for Christmas.  I'm preaching a sermon series on Mary and her perspective of the gift of Jesus.  So I've been thinking about moms and babies a lot.

I first "discovered" Psalm 131 in seminary.  During mid-terms and finals, we were given this psalm as a devotional text.  Wow!  "Not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me."  Instead: calm and quiet your soul.  Great advice.

But it's the visual image that packs the biggest punch here: a weaned child and its mother.  Not a nursing child (always demanding to be fed!).  But a contented child.  A child who can just sit with its mother and be together.  Resting.  Trusting.  Calm.  Content.

Mary had seen/heard "great & marvelous" things about her baby Jesus.  It could have been overwhelming.  But then there were times (especially after he was weaned) that she simply held him in her arms and enjoyed the moment.  No future thoughts, endeavors or actions.  Just content to be together.  That's what the Psalmist is calling us to experience, too.  How long has it been since you've rested in the LORD... without asking/wanting/demanding anything?  (Me too.)