Don’t Harden Your Hearts!

Psalm 95 is an interesting psalm. It only has 11 verses. The first seven verses are filled with great statements about praising God …

Come, let’s sing out loud to the Lord! Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation! Let’s come before him with thanks! Let’s shout songs of joy to him! The Lord is a great God …

and …

Come, let’s worship and bow down! Let’s kneel before the Lord, our maker! He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep in his hands. (Psalm 95.6-7, CEB)

But the Psalm ends rather differently. The last four verses include a challenge and a warning: “Don’t harden your hearts.”

“Don’t harden your hearts like you did at Meribah, like you did when you were at Massah, in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me and scrutinized me, even though they had already seen my acts. (Psalm 95.8-9, CEB)

This was a generation that broke God’s heart.

For forty years I despised that generation; I said, ‘These people have twisted hearts. They don’t know my ways.’ So in anger I swore: ‘They will never enter my place of rest!’” (Psalm 95.10-11, CEB)

“They will never enter my place of rest.”

The cost of hardening our hearts is estrangement from God.

We harden our hearts through direct disobedience to God. But sometimes, if we’re not careful, it happens more subtly.

It’s no wonder Jesus and others in the New Testament are so adamant about the need to stay alert. We must stay alert. Otherwise, our hearts will harden without us knowing it.

Peter writes …

Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5.8, CEB)

Don’t harden your hearts!

Prayers for the Church: Action

The Church needs to be a people of action!

I’m writing a series of prayers for the Church, offering a prayer on a different topic each week. So far, I’ve prayed for awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, and compassion.

Scripture makes clear that faith and action go hand in hand. One example is James 2 …

My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? … faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity. … a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. … As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead (selected verses from James 2.14-26, CEB).

Without action, faith is dead!

O God, thank you for calling us out to be your people and sending us out to be your hands and feet in the world. We are your messengers of hope in a broken world. We are your followers, sent to change the world!

Break our hearts for what breaks your’s and you move our hearts with compassion. Inspire and lead us to act on our faith and compassion!

Shake us up. Never let us settle for the way things are, but always strive for the way things could and should be!

Help us to put our love for your world in action so that we love not only with our words, but also with our actions. May the world know we are your followers by our love-in-action!

Empower and equip every follower of Jesus to be an effective witness for Christ. Pour out your Holy Spirit on Us and empower us so that we may engage in mission throughout the world. And, let us bear much fruit for your kingdom!

Amen.

Meeting Bishop & Mrs. Park

willisesandparks

One of the highlights of the Bishop’s Retreat, which ended yesterday in Lancaster, PA, was the kids getting to meet Bishop Jeremiah Park, and his wife, Lisa, who are both from Korea.

We took a photo with the Parks after the closing communion service. Unfortunately, we had to crop the right side of the picture due to flash glare. We took another shot to correct the glare, but Sarah, who was tired by this point, refused to face forward. For one of the shots, Bishop Park attempted to sit in the chair, but Ethan took it from him. Only a five-year-old would kick the bishop out of his chair!

When we met the bishop and his wife a few months ago, we showed them photos of Ethan and Sarah. We also thanked them for their involvement in our journey.

Before Bishop Jeremiah Park became our bishop last September, he was the bishop of the New York Annual Conference. When we went to Korea to get Ethan in 2008, our bishop, Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, referred us to Bishop Park. Bishop Park put us in contact with a friend of his, the pastor of Holy Flames Methodist Church, near Seoul, Korea (we mentioned Bishop Park in our first cross-cultural experience post five years ago).

Our contact with the Holy Flames Methodist Church, and particularly, the small group we attended our first evening with Ethan, was an experience we’ll always treasure (see Our Amazing Korean Church Family)!

We are grateful to God for our connectional church!

Returning From Retreat With Hope

On Monday evening at the Bishop’s Retreat, Randy led a time of prayer and reflection, looking at 1 Kings 19.1-9a. He asked “What are you running from?” and “What are you running to?”

On Tuesday evening, I concluded our look at Elijah with 1 Kings 19.9b-15a, which begins with Elijah in a cave where he has spent the night.

The Lord’s word came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

10 Elijah replied, “I’ve been very passionate for the Lord God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too!”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

14 He said, “I’ve been very passionate for the Lord God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back … (Common English Bible)

Two times, God asks Elijah, “Why are you here?”

Both times, Elijah answers by telling God what he is running from.

Finally, God simply says, “Go back …”

We are at a retreat. The military definition of retreat is to withdraw. I knew this part of the definition. This retreat is a time to withdraw—from the things you are running from.

But I never realized that the military definition goes on to say that one withdraws to find a more favorable position.

We, too, have come to retreat so that we can “go back” having gained a more favorable position, having gained sure footing, having regained perspective, vision, and renewed hope.

We concluded the evening in small groups, reflecting on, discussing, and praying for one another, around the question, “How has God prepared you to ‘go back’?”

What has God given you to “go back” to your ministry?

Thank You, Adam Hamilton!

Today, Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, delivered the sermon at the Inaugural prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. President Barack Obama, and other national leaders, gathered in this traditional service that dates back to George Washington.

You can read the transcript of Adam Hamilton’s sermon on his blog.

Because we are at our conference’s Bishop’s Retreat in Lancaster, PA, we didn’t get to watch the service live this morning. But our conference recorded the sermon so we could watch it later. I read the transcript during our afternoon free time (before our family nap and time in the children’s pool) and couldn’t wait to experince Adam’s delivery of it with our conference clergy family. At the beginning of this evening’s session, we watched the sermon. When it was over, we applauded!

Adam’s sermon was extremely well done. The message was challenging to the leaders of our nation, and to us all. I believe Adam represented Christ—and The United Methodist Church—well.

Thank you, Adam Hamilton. And thanks be to God!

Finding Hope in God

Last night, at the end of the first session of our Bishop’s Retreat, I led our clergy family in a time of prayer and reflection. Here’s the gist of what I said.

Leadership and ministry often involves a lot of running. Unfortunately, too much running makes it hard to have a healthy soul!

And, a having a healthy soul is crucial.

I’m reading Replenish by Lance Witt. Witt argues …

We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul.

The prophet Elijah once ran. He needed a rebirth of hope! Listen to what transpires after Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal …

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, how he had killed all Baal’s prophets with the sword. 2 Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah with this message: “May the gods do whatever they want to me if by this time tomorrow I haven’t made your life like the life of one of them.” 3 Elijah was terrified. He got up and ran for his life. He arrived at Beer-sheba in Judah and left his assistant there. 4 He himself went farther on into the desert a day’s journey. He finally sat down under a solitary broom bush. He longed for his own death: “It’s more than enough, Lord! Take my life because I’m no better than my ancestors.” 5 He lay down and slept under the solitary broom bush. Then suddenly a messenger tapped him and said to him, “Get up! Eat something!” 6 Elijah opened his eyes and saw flatbread baked on glowing coals and a jar of water right by his head. He ate and drank, and then went back to sleep. 7 The Lord’s messenger returned a second time and tapped him. “Get up!” the messenger said. “Eat something, because you have a difficult road ahead of you.” 8 Elijah got up, ate and drank, and went refreshed by that food for forty days and nights until he arrived at Horeb, God’s mountain. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. (1 Kings 19.1-9a, Common English Bible)

Elijah ran. There were things he ran from (trouble, fear, desperation). In a sense, there were also things he ran toward (prayer, solitude, replenishment).

Take a moment to reflect on what you may be running from. Then, look for things you might run toward, in order to regain hope and strength.

I love these words spoken by Jesus …

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11.28, Common English Bible)

And also these words from the Psalms …

Oh, I must find rest in God only, because my hope comes from him! (Psalm 62.5, Common English Bible)

Amen.

Bishop William Willimon To Speak at Bishop’s Retreat!

Bishop William Willimon is coming to the Susquehanna Conference next week as a guest speaker at the Bishop’s Retreat for our clergy family.

Bishop Willimon recently retired from serving as bishop of the North Alabama Conference. He has since returned to Duke, where he taught for twenty years before being elected bishop in 2004. He is also a blogger.

I have read some of Bishop Willimon’s books, and maybe even listened to a sermon or two online, but I have never heard him in person. I love his books and have always been challenged by him. I’m really looking forward to hearing him, and being challenged by him, at the Bishop’s Retreat!

In the past, I’ve written posts on stuff written by Bishop Willimon, including …

Bishop Willimon will speak at the retreat Monday evening and Tuesday morning. During the event, I will post my favorite quotes live on Twitter. And, I hope to write something for the blog, as well (during or after the event). I invite you to follow along!

Prayers for the Church: Compassion

The church needs compassion!

I’m writing a series of prayers for the Church, offering a prayer on a different topic each week. So far, I’ve prayed for awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, and health.

Yesterday, I wrote, God, Break Our Hearts! Asking God to break our hearts for what breaks God’s heart is a prayer to be moved with compassion!

O God, break our hearts for what breaks your’s!

Thank you for loving the world so much that you gave your only Son so that whoever believes in him won’t perish, but will have eternal life! Thank you, Lord, that you don’t want anyone to perish, but all to change their hearts and lives! Thank you for not writing us off just yet!

As long as you are a God of love, mercy, and grace, there is hope for humankind. There is hope for the people you created!

But, clearly, we live in a dark, painful, broken world. As we look around, break our hearts for what breaks your’s!

Then, let us be moved with compassion and moved to action. We must put our faith in action and do something to bring healing to our broken world. We won’t be able to do everything, but we can do something! Lead and empower us to be your hands and feet, and a voice of hope, in the world! Amen.

God, Break Our Hearts!

I’ve always loved the description of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew 9.35-38 …

35 Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. 36 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. 38 Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.” (Common English Bible)

As Jesus traveled around, he was moved with compassion. You could say his heart was broken by what he saw.

Compassion leads to action. Jesus instructed his disciples to pray for more workers. There’s so much to do, we need all hands on deck!

There’s a prayer I’ve been praying, and teaching others to pray, for a while: God, break our hearts for what breaks yours!

I was introduced to this prayer at the 2011 Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit. After the Summit, I wrote

Perhaps the single biggest takeaway for me was Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil’s challenge to pray for divine mandate. She suggested that we pray, “God, break our hearts for what breaks yours!” noting that it’s also the most dangerous prayer. It’s about getting our marching orders from God.

Since then, the phrase also jumped out at me in the Casting Crowns’ song, “Friend of Sinners” …

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers. Let our hearts be led by mercy. Help us reach with open hearts and open doors. Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours.

What broke Jesus’ heart was people who were troubled and helpless, people who were like sheep without a shepherd. We, too, must be moved by what moved Jesus.

If the Church is going to fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ, it’s hearts must break for what breaks God’s heart!

Teach Me Your Way, Lord!

Life isn’t easy. We need a guide, a compass, a way to live.

Last summer, I was reading through the Psalms, and a verse from Psalm 86 jumped out at me.

Teach me your way, Lord, so that I can walk in your truth. Make my heart focused only on honoring your name. (Psalm 86.11, Common English Bible)

That should be the prayer of every disciple of Jesus Christ. A disciple is a learner, student, apprentice. Disciples strive to be like their teacher.

“Teach me your way, Lord.”

Few qualities are more important for a disciple than teachability. Disciples—learners, students, apprentices—by nature, must be teachable. Disciples of Jesus want to know his way so that they can walk in it.

And, disciples of Jesus should have one sole focus—honoring God’s name. I love the last sentence in Psalm 86.11: “Make my heart focused only on honoring your name.”

I encourage you to internalize this verse and make it your prayer.

In our home, we’ve been memorizing this verse over the last few months. Ethan and Sarah know it pretty well. I hope it will always be our prayer. If so, we will be much more likely to live lives that honor God!