Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Celtic Prayer


A CELTIC PRAYER FOR CHRISTMAS


Jesus, we kneel before You in silent amazement.

Thank you that, because of Your birth, we know that our Father is with us.

May we welcome You, not in a cold manger of a heart,

But in a heart so pure, a heart warm with love for one another.


Jesus, You are—

The tender holy Babe;

The Shepherd of Your flock;

The Healing Person;

The Christ of the people;

The world-pervading God;

Emmanuel, God-with-us.


Jesus, You are—

The Glory of eternity who now shines among us;

Son of the High King of the universe;

Splendor of the Father;

Source of life; 

Prince of Peace;

Wonderful Counselor; 

Friend of all;

Champion of justice;

Joy of angels.


Jesus, in You we see God's face—

Gentle;

Smiling;

Strong;

Loving.


Jesus, You radiate what the world 
so needs today—

Gentleness, tenderness, light and hope.


In You, may we find—

Gentleness as the answer to violence;

Tenderness as the answer to ill-will;

Light as the answer to lies;

Hope as the answer to despair.


Jesus, Your grace brings forgiveness—

Have mercy upon us, bring us to 
true sorrow for our sins 
and a sincere repentance. 
Forgive our sins that we may have 
eternal life through You.

For Your glory fills eternity both now 
and ever and to the ages of ages.  

Amen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Jingle Bells. Jangled Nerves.

Dear Friends,

When I was a teenager, my grandmother took me on a vacation across America. We were going to Chicago to visit family and then to New York to see the 1965 World’s Fair. I wanted to fly. Get in. Take off. Land. Get to where you want to go, to see the things you came to see! But my grandmother, the teacher, had other ideas – we’d take the train. 

Crawling across the country for three days, I was bored. I was fascinated. It seemed to take forever and it was over too quickly. I still remember the images from the observation car. Those western towns in New Mexico, the forever plains of Texas, traveling through Websters Grove, Missouri – the birthplace of my grandfather, and the thrill of crossing the Mississippi River while thinking about the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and his friend Jim. I had wanted to get to New York as fast as we could. My grandmother wanted to teach me how to slow down and enjoy the journey. What a wonderful gift of memories she gave me that summer.

It seems that as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are dried and put away, a bell sounds and the Christmas race is on. Recent surveys show that Christmas is the sixth most stressful life event up there with divorce, death, moving and changing jobs. December is the most stressful month for families. High expectations for the perfect gifts, baking, cooking, decorations, parties and will Aunt Eunice drink too much of the enhanced eggnog again? Jingle Bells and jangled nerves. Dashing toward Christmas day in a one horse open sleigh. Then finally, it’s Christmas! It’s show-time!! We did it! And we never notice that in our perfectly hand-crafted, decorated Christmas, the manger is still empty. We’ve left someOne behind.
When we’re flying through December and hurtling toward the destination we call “Christmas,” life around us becomes a blur. Maybe grandma was right and we need to just slow down and enjoy the journey. That’s why we need Advent. 

Advent means “coming” and these are the days that we anticipate the coming of Christ. Advent is the spiritual speed-bump that slows us down in our race toward Christmas and allows us to savor the journey. When we are tempted to speed up into the Holly Jolly Christmas pace, Advent takes us into a contemplative place. During this happy holiday season, we can meet Santa at Wal-Mart, but Advent reminds us that we’ll meet God in the quiet sacred places.


On the Advent journey, we find our peace and joy not in what we buy, plan, decorate or cook, but in the expectancy of His coming. You may want to spend even more time in quiet prayer and contemplation. You may want to turn down the noise of your fast-paced life and spend time in silence with Him – just you and God – alone together. 

During this journey of Advent, spend time with  Luke 1:5-2:20 and Matthew 1:18-24. The ancient practice of lectio divina (sacred reading) is reading a passage of scripture until a word or phrase stands out and repeating it in a slow and reflective manner. Meditate on the word or words by thinking about what they mean to you. What is God saying to you? Pray about this and then just rest in His presence. Sit quietly with Him in a time of contemplation. You may hear Him speak to your heart, you may be filled with His peace or you may just find yourself sitting there with God and enjoying His Presence. 

Resting in His peace will bring a joyful attitude. When others are stressed, anxious and angry in the weeks ahead, bring the joy of God into their lives. Practice graciousness, patience, and kindness with family members and frazzled store clerks alike. Be especially aware of friends and neighbors who struggle this time of year and be compassionate. Be Christ-like. Show them the love of Jesus this Christmas and do what you can to relieve their distress, suffering and loneliness. 

Let Advent slow us down from the craziness of Christmas and take us into that contemplative “Maranatha” place as our souls are nourished with the anticipation of His coming. The Aramaic phrase MARANATHA is used just once in the New Testament (1 Cor 16:22) and is translated, “O Lord, come!” Let that be our prayer this Advent...
MARANATHA!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christmas Starts With Christ

Dear Friends,

It was a few years ago that we first saw the store on Main Street in Ventura at Christmas. All the windows were painted red and in huge white letters: JOHN 3:16 and THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS IS JESUS. Every year since, we always look forward to seeing what will be on the display windows, and this year they had painted: CHRISTMAS STARTS WITH CHRIST. There is a black and white painted portrait of Jesus and then the words: IT IS SIMPLY BLACK AND WHITE... This store owner is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I wish that every Christian retailer in America was as bold as this person is!


If I lived in Ventura, I’d be sending everyone I know to American Mattress! We need to show our appreciation for retailers who actively support Christmas. Lowe’s, Sears and Wal-Mart do an exceptional job at celebrating and promoting Christmas. Other companies who support Christmas are Costco, Rite-Aid, Macy’s, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Hallmark, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Michaels, Target, Amazon.com, Office Max and Sam’s Club. 

But some retailers actively against Christmas are Barnes&Noble, PetSmart, Office Depot, Staples, Foot Locker, and Victoria’s Secret. Radio Shack, for example, refuses to use the word “Christmas” in its advertising and prohibits its employees from saying the word in the stores.*

Powered by progressive liberals and atheists, a forceful and deadly tsunami of political correctness is sweeping over Christmas in an attempt to completely secularize this holy day (holiday) and strip it of any religious meaning. “No way that’s going to happen!” we scoff. But are we certain of that?

Remember that for the first few hundred years in our country, Thanksgiving was a uniquely Protestant Evangelical Christian holy day. [See last week’s AMEN Corner]. Now secularized and sanitized of its original meaning, Thanksgiving is about eating a meal and watching a football game. 

The President’s Educational Reform requires that states adopt Common Core standards before they can receive federal funding. This new approved curriculum for teaching children about Thanksgiving has removed any reference to the original intent by Christians to express gratitude and thankfulness to God. Children are now being taught that thanksgiving was always practiced by the American Indians to thank the spirits for their harvest. This politically correct version of our American history portrays the Pilgrims as a group of foolish and unprepared settlers and shows how they were saved by the Indians. The new Common Core approved curriculum now presents a fictitious spin on thanksgiving that removes the original Christian meaning and focuses primarily on the culture and customs of the Wampanoag Indians.

Could secularization really happen to Christmas? In British society, atheists have made significant headway in removing Christ from Christmas. In a recent poll, conducted by Christianity Today, only half of British adults believe that the birth of Jesus has any connection to Christmas. That means that half of their entire adult population sincerely believes that Jesus has nothing to do with the holiday they call Christmas! 

Every year in America, Christmas is becoming more secularized and the 80% of us who are Christians quietly complain as we shrug our shoulders in apathy. We need to put Jesus back into Christmas with the same passionate fervor and intensity that atheist activists have invested in their efforts to make it a Christ-less holiday.

John Calvin, one of the early protestant fathers of our faith said this, “The Gospel does not fall from the clouds like rain by accident, but is brought by the hands of men and women to whom God has sent it.”

Don't be ashamed to speak the name of Christ at Christmas. Don't be ashamed to wish people a Merry Christmas. There is an 80-90% chance that they celebrate Christmas too! If you are a politically correct type of person, that's fine. Be politically correct when you talk about politics, but we need to be a Christian when we’re talking about the religious holy day that celebrates the birth of Christ and glorifies the risen King!  Amen?


* See the entire AFA Naughty or Nice List here

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving. Uniquely American; Undeniably Christian.

Dear Friends,

I was recently reading about a Washington D.C. politician who was vilifying the Christian church because it doesn’t like the secular direction our Nation is going in. He said, “If Christians don’t like it here, they can just go start their own country..”  Well.. actually, we already did that.. It’s called America.

John Adams was the 2nd U.S. President and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams described the principles upon which our Country was founded and the Declaration of Independence was written: "The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite, and these Principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United.. Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System."

And by the time the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, Thanksgiving had been celebrated in America for over 150 years!

Thanksgiving began as a holy day, created by the first colonies of Christian Puritans (English Protestants) sincere in their desire to set aside one day each year especially to thank the Lord for His many blessings. These first settlers celebrated days of thanksgiving by acknowledging God as their Sovereign Provider thus providing a spiritual principle which has undergirded the foundation of our Nation.  

One of the earliest recorded celebrations occurred in 1564, after a small colony of French explorers established a settlement in, what today is, Florida. They journaled: “We sang a song of thanksgiving unto God, beseeching Him that it would please Him to continue His accustomed goodness towards us.”

In 1621, the Christian Pilgrims landed at Plymouth and immediately struck up a friendship with the Indians who taught them how to plant and harvest corn. The grateful Pilgrims declared a three day feast in December of 1621 to thank God and celebrate their blessings with their Indian friends. Ninety Wampanoag Indians joined the fifty Pilgrims for this Nation’s first Thanksgiving feast which  became an annual celebration in the colonies.


From these first days in our Nation's history, days of thanksgiving were also periodically called by government leaders. On September 25, 1789, one day after the First House of Representatives voted to recommend the First Amendment to the states for ratification, a proposal was made by the House to President Washington to “proclaim a day of thanksgiving for the many favors of Almighty God.”

A yearly holy day (holiday) was established by a Presidential Proclamation in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November, “..as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Congress later changed this day of celebration to the fourth Thursday in November.  

Thanksgiving has always been, a uniquely American Christian holiday! We join in this wonderful tradition set forth by our Nation's Christian forefathers as we celebrate the majesty and goodness of God, giving Him praise and thanksgiving! 

"Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever... Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works...”  [Psalm 107:1,8]


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thanks. Giving.

Dear Friends,

It was a November several years ago when God showed me something new about Thanksgiving. He showed me a word picture in my mind that resulted in a fundamental and permanent change to the way I view Thanksgiving today. At the risk of you thinking less of me than perhaps you already do, I’ll confess my small-mindedness when it came to my things. 

As a good church-goin’ Christian, I knew who the Giver of all good things was and I’d be the first one on my feet thanking God for all that He had given me. But my next shout would be, “..and it’s mine! Mine! Yes! It’s all MINE!!!” 

Thanksgiving was a time to do the yearly inventory and thank God for His generous provision. And that’s when God gave me the word picture. I had, of course, always seen the word as THANKSGIVING. But God showed me that the word needed to look like this...



The Kingdom Principle that God wanted me to see was that GIVING always follows THANKS. If November is the season of thanks, December is the season of giving. But, this giving is not about that which gets wrapped up and stuffed under a Christmas Tree. It’s about giving to others who have less than we do.

On a Thanksgiving Sunday at our church four years ago, I’ll never forget Kathleen just staring at the hospitality hour banquet table. It was literally bending under the weight of a full Thanksgiving feast and I thought she was staring at the table out of concern it would collapse. But she kinda shook her head and quietly said, “So much food... So many people don’t have enough... We really need to appreciate this...”

Just a few days before, I had been talking with a woman at work and asked her what she was thankful for that year. She told me that she wakes up everyday and thanks God for everything in her life. She then told me her story. “My mother died when I was fourteen and I had to take care of my five brothers and sisters.” She said, “I was the oldest so I had to be their mother and do their laundry and all the cooking.” I asked if there were other relatives who had helped her out. She said that there were only about 20 houses in the village where she lived in central Mexico and there was no other family. She told me that they lived in a one room house with two beds.  She said, “I cooked on the fire outside and I washed the clothes by taking them down to the creek and rubbing them on the rocks.” I said, “Did you have drinking water?” She laughed and said, “We did when I could get my brothers to carry it up from the creek.” She told me, “I’m thankful to God for so many things.” Tears filled her eyes and she said, “When I was fourteen I never dreamed that today I would own a house that had a washer and a stove and a bathroom inside it.”

Maria’s story opens our eyes and shows us what poverty still looks like in two-thirds of the world today. That’s why this Christmas we will once again be giving our Christmas offering to Living Water to dig a well that will supply fresh, clean drinking water in the name of Jesus. 

But even more than the donation to Living Water, Jesus may be showing you that you need to get personal with this. How do you see it now? 

Like this? THANKSGIVING. 
Or like this? THANKS. GIVING. 

You may be thinking, I just don't personally know anyone who needs my help. If so, may God open your eyes and ears to the needs of others. There are people all around you who desperately need help. If your prayer is that God will lead you to someone who needs your help, I can guarantee that He will answer that prayer.

You may be thinking, I don't know what I could give to another person. I don't have much leftover that I can give. I can guarantee that if you pray that God will show you someone who has less than you, that prayer will also be answered.

Thanksgiving is the time to thank God for His bountiful provisions and blessings that He has so freely given us. It’s time for THANKS. GIVING. What will that look like for you this year?


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Compassion. It's What We Do.

Dear Friends,

If one word could sum up our New Prosperity Gospel, it would be the word, “Compassion.” We typically misdefine this word to mean feelings of empathy and sympathy we have toward another’s suffering. But the definition of compassion is: “an awareness of another’s distress along with a desire to alleviate it.” Compassion is not just what we feel for others, it’s what we do for others. Compassion is the manifestation of our love for others. It’s holding the hand of someone in the hospital. It’s feeding the hungry. It’s helping the needy. It’s alleviating suffering. 

As I was preparing this issue of the AMEN Corner on Veterans Day, I found a photograph that shows true Compassion better than anything I could ever say to explain it.


When I worked for the City of Glendale back in the mid-90's, I used to occasionally go out to lunch with a friend of mine, Jim Anthony. We never talked about our faith but, by the words he used and the things he said, it was apparent that he was not a practicing Christian. One day we were walking from City Hall to a restaurant and taking a shortcut through the 7-Eleven parking lot. That’s when we saw the man lying next to the dumpster. An empty bottle was nearby and it was pretty clear he was just drunk and passed out. He was dressed in filthy clothing and there was the overwhelming stench of alcohol and urine. You could see where he had urinated in his clothing as he slept. I carefully stepped around him to avoid getting anything on the bottom of my shoes, but Jim walked over to the guy. 

It can be dangerous to try to wake up sleeping transients. Because of drugs, alcohol or an unbalanced mental state, some of these guys can wake up startled and violent. Police officers stand to one side and tap their nightstick on the sole of the person's shoe to wake them up. So I cringed when I saw Jim bend over the guy, put his hand on a filthy shoulder and start to gently shake him awake saying, "Hey.. are you OK?" Now another piece of information I want to give you about Jim is that he was the Chief of Police for the City of Glendale. 

The guy stirred awake and fell right back to sleep. I said to Jim, "Well he's OK..do you want to call for a black and white to pick him up?" He told me he did so I used my City radio to call police dispatch. We’d now been there for a few minutes and I was restless and hungry so I said, "OK.. Lets go." Jim gave me a funny look and told me, "We can't just leave him here like this." I said, "Well he sure isn't going anywhere until the car gets here" Jim was still looking at me as if he couldn't believe my insensitivity and said, "But what if he gets sick and aspirates his vomit or has a heart attack?" So we waited, talked and waited some more. 

We were dressed in suits and standing in the direct sun on a very hot summer day. But Jim was careful to stand so that the man’s face was in his shadow and shielded from the hot sun. At first I thought that Jim was just doing this because of some liability reason or out of a professional responsibility. But as I saw him periodically reach down and brush away the flies which were gathering around open sores on this man's face, I realized I wasn’t simply watching my friend the cop do his job. I was seeing a man of compassion caring for another and doing what he could to alleviate suffering. My non-Christian friend was showing me what true Christian compassion looks like.

In the Gospels, the word “compassion” is often used in conjunction with the ministry of Jesus. We read that He was moved with compassion for the sick person and healed them. He had compassion for the hungry and fed them..for the blind and touched them..for the lost and prayed for them. He had compassion for the sinners and forgave them. Jesus never walked by, shaking his head, saying, “Poor fellow, I sure do feel bad for him.” Whenever Jesus was moved to compassion, He immediately relieved their suffering – He met their need...

The soldier in the photo and my friend Jim show us what Christ-like compassion looks like. 1 Peter 3:8 tells us to “have compassion for one another.” Help others. Touch their lives with your love. Give generously and meet their needs. Remember that our treasures are stored up in heaven when we give to others. That’s the New Prosperity Gospel.  Amen?


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bloated with Blessings? Try our NEW Prosperity Gospel.

Dear Friends,

Have you ever walked out of a dark theater or dimly-lit restaurant and been overwhelmed by the brilliance of the mid-day sun? The contrast brings a greater awareness of the darkness we’ve exited from and accentuates the light that we’ve entered into. Perhaps the one good thing we can say about Halloween is that when it’s over and we step out of the darkness and into the light, we become even more appreciative of this season of Thanksgiving. 

At Sam’s Club where there were shelves stacked high with black and gray decorations, today there are harvest baskets with the brilliant, golden colors of autumn. Where there used to be gravestones and skeletons symbolizing death, I see Nativity sets signifying life. Where I saw animatronic demons with flashing red eyes, I now see the baby Jesus lying in the manger. What a contrast these images present as we transition into the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas!

Lord God as we enter into this time of Thanksgiving, hear our prayers. “Thank you Lord for Your bountiful blessing of this Thanksgiving Feast, as we consume turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes smothered with gravy until we are bloated with Your blessings.”

“Thank you God for Your generous financial provision,” we pray as we quickly deposit that check safely in the bank where no one else can get their grubby hands on our money.

“Lord, thank You for all your good gifts,” we pray as we add another cute, red top to the twenty-five red tops we already have hanging in our closet.

“Thank you Lord for all You have blessed us with,” as we survey our packed garage or storage rooms filled with expensive things we will never use.

And in this season of giving thanks to God, He has been putting on my heart that I need to start practicing and preaching the Prosperity Gospel. No, no, no. Not that Prosperity Gospel! I’m talking about an entirely NEW Prosperity Gospel. 

The doctrine of the old Prosperity Gospel is not based on scripture and was developed by American Evangelists in the 1950's. That doctrine says that financial blessing is the will of God for all believers. You must confess that, believe in it, use positive thoughts and speech to affirm it and of course you must give a "$eed Faith" to the evangelist’s ministry to “activate” your “blessing” of material wealth.

But the NEW Prosperity Gospel (PG) is not based on self-centered desires; it’s based on God’s Word and the Lord’s desire that His kids share their things. The old PG takes “authority” over what I don’t have and commands that God give it to me; the NEW PG looks at what God has already given me to see how I can use my things to bless others.

The NEW PG is not based on my getting more, it’s based on my giving more. It’s not coveting what you don’t have and “Naming and Claiming it.” It’s naming what you do have and giving it away to someone who needs it more than you do. If that sounds shocking to you, go read Acts 2:41-47 paying special attention to verses 44-45.

The old Prosperity Gospel says that God wants you to live in affluence, wealth, opulence and luxury. But the Bible says: “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! (And that, my friends is real prosperity!!) Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry. You should help the poor and remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (NLT Luke 12:33; Luke 3:11; Acts 20:35)


Have you become swept up in a swirling tsunami of things? Bloated with blessings that are rusting away and attracting moths? The NEW Prosperity Gospel says, “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness..” (Isaiah 58:10) 

If you practiced the NEW Prosperity Gospel, what would your priorities look like? What would you be doing differently in your life? With your money? Are you willing to do that?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Yes. It's a Battle. You're Gonna Win.

Dear Friends,

Does hearing about the Devil and demons make you feel uncomfortable? If so, join the club. We want to read and hear light-hearted, feel-good stories that bring happiness and peace to our lives. That's why many churches today do not preach about spiritual struggles and the reality of evil. As a result, 60% of Christians believe that Satan is not real but just a symbol of evil. 5% are not sure. But God's Word mentions the very real existence of Satan or the Devil eighty-one times and the existence of demons or unclean spirits seventy-seven times. By my count, Jesus refers to the spirit-being called Satan seven  times. That’s proof enough for me.

It’s important for Christians to really understand what the Bible says about Satan and the demonic realm, because the most effective tool the Enemy has in ruling the world is deception. The Bible says that Satan is the father of all lies and he is a master at illusion. The Devil's ability to work without resistance in today's culture is because people just don't know that he's there. That's why the Destroyer has been able to so rapidly increase persecution against Christians in our country. Evil operates most effectively when it is operating covertly.  

If al-Qaeda terrorists had to wear a sign that said "DANGER – SUICIDE BOMBER – STAY BACK 90 FEET", they wouldn't be very effective. Terrorists are only effective when they look, sound and act normal. Evil only works when it blends in, becomes “invisible” and people are unaware of its existence. 

So when 60% of Christians don't believe that Satan exists, that's a huge victory for him. Satan's greatest deception is to create disbelief in himself.  Derek Prince has said that, "..demons exercise a continuous and powerful influence on our lives, but our humanistic prejudice has blinded us to the evidence. In fact, it's our refusal to acknowledge the evidence that makes it easy for demons to operate undetected."

The reality is that, “..we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) The Bible tells us that we are in a continuous struggle against the Prince of Darkness and his demons and that struggle affects our everyday physical realm.

While we must be careful to take responsibility for our own actions and decisions, we constantly find ourselves wrestling with temptations, illness and misfortunes. When we resist temptation, we are resisting the Tempter. When we refuse to live deceptive lives, we refuse the Deceiver’s lies. When we pray against accidents illness, injuries, disease, calamity and destruction, we are praying against the Devil. When we pray for protection against harm and danger for ourselves, friends and loved ones we authoritatively take a stand against the Devil’s works.

We are currently in a season of very strategic and intense times in the church. There is a battle against the rulers of the darkness of this age, and against spiritual hosts of wickedness. This is nothing new. Paul tells Timothy,“But you, O man of God, flee (evil) things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith..” (1 Timothy 6:11-12) 

The Greek word translated as “fight” means to contend with as in battle. We don’t give in to the powers of darkness; we fight, wrestle, battle and contend against the Enemy in prayer. This is Spiritual Warfare! We claim our authority through Christ and when we pray against Satan’s works in the name of Jesus, we have confidence that the Holy Spirit will give us victories against the Enemy. 

Until the Devil and his forces are forever bound in Hell, we will continue to struggle against them. And we confidently do so knowing the One who already has the victory. “For this purpose the Son of Man was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil.” (1 John 3:8)  That’s the good news!  Amen?

To read our Halloween Guide for Christian Parents,
click on Halloween Guide


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Devil's Having a Party and You're Invited!

Dear Friends,

I’m amazed at how some Christians readily believe God’s Word when it describes good spirit beings called angels and yet disbelieve all the scriptures which describe the fallen, evil spirit beings: Satan and his army of demons.

Back in the old days of journalism, when I was a news director at a radio station in Riverside, news stories were researched, factual and hard-hitting reports. You started with the who, what, when, where and why. Let’s do that now.

WHO: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!”
WHAT: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
WHEN: “..for the devil has sinned from the beginning.”
WHERE: “And the LORD said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?’ So Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.’”
WHY: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

Evil is sometimes difficult to spot. It was easy back in the days of black and white TV and movies. The good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black. But Satan is a deceiver ➏ and transforms himself into an angel of light ➐. That means that the devil can easily fool us by putting on a white hat. And that’s why on Halloween, too many Christian parents unknowingly send out their children to dance with the devil.  Really?

From a Wiccian website: “The wall between earth and the underworld is thin at this time of year. On Halloween night, the wall opens and the Lord of Darkness rises up from the underworld. It is an evil and wicked night, a perfect night for a witch to celebrate New Years.”

And you may be thinking: Okay but I’m not a Witch or a Satanist!  I’m a Christian! So how does this affect me? Here’s the bottom-line. The Apostle Paul tells us, “I don’t want you to be participants with demons.” The NKJ says “I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” ➑  That should give us something to think about. God’s Word says don’t hang out with the devil but instead “resist the devil so that he will flee from you”

Do we really want to provoke God by dressing up like zombies and partying with the demons on the night that both Wiccians and Satanists dedicate their souls to Lucifer?

The greatest danger our young people are in today is not physical but spiritual. (Read again the WHAT). Anything that lowers resistance in a child’s or teen’s mind (alcohol and drugs) and anything that normalizes sin and evil (most TV shows and video games) gives the devil a foothold in their life. Anything that makes the demonic darkness of the world seem fun and attractive, (occult practices, Halloween, or a fascination with the current zombie and vampire craze) gives the devil a foothold. Satan’s purpose is to blind every generation, devour them and establish his stronghold in their lives.  We are in a continuous struggle against the devil whose only purpose is to rob, kill and destroy. ➓

Today in our Nation we are seeing a veil of darkness descend over this next generation and there is a battle in the powers and principalities over their souls. We need to contend for the younger generation and for all generations in prayer. The young generation is seeking. Let us pray: Lord, lead them to Your Truth! 

And please let me encourage you to use discernment about your own participation in Halloween. You can’t be walking with God while you’re holding hands with the devil. Amen?

➊ Isaiah 14:12  ➋ Ephesians 6:12  ➌ 1 John 3:8  ➍ Job 1:7  ➎ 1 Peter 5:8
➏ John 8:44  ➐ 2 Corinthians 11:14  ➑ 1 Corinthians 10:20-22  ➒ James 4:7
➓ John 10:10

To read our Halloween Guide for Christian Parents,
click on Halloween Guide

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Seasons of Life

Dear Friends,

A cool breeze last evening and a chilly 48 degrees this morning. A change of color in the trees across the street. A freshness in the air that portends the passage of a season and prepares us for the next. Autumn is a time of beauty and peace for contemplatives, photographers, writers and artists. The brilliant tapestry of autumn colors feeds one’s soul and heart with such a dazzling display of God’s handiwork that we just need to go out and play in it. It’s time to go to Oak Glen.

My family started going there in 1963 and my mom is still good friends with 95 year old Theresa Law who is one of the town’s original founders. Oak Glen is known for its abundant apple orchards and its rolling hills covered with vivid autumn reds, oranges, and yellows. It’s as close as you can get to a spectacular New England autumn without getting on a plane.

Seasonal transitions of “nature” in God’s Creation remind us of seasons in our church and in our life. Autumn also signals the arrival of Advent – that season of anticipation as we prepare for the birth of the Christ child. Advent leads us to the Christmas celebration which includes Epiphany– the manifestation of the Savior Jesus to the Gentiles. Soon the chill of winter gives way to the warmth of spring and a season of spiritual growth. Lent is a time of reflection and recommitment to a renewed relationship with God. We approach Good Friday with our unspeakable gratitude for the ultimate gift of God’s grace and salvation mixed along with a sense of sorrow for the suffering that Jesus endured. Easter– Resurrection Sunday– is truly a glorious day and the most important of all Christian Holy Days (“holidays”). Fifty days later comes Pentecost, marking the day that God’s presence became actively working in believers through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to enable us to become a witness of His glory and grace to the world. After Pentecost we enter a season of what the church calls “Ordinary Time.” But the time quickly passes and before long, we sense a freshness in the air and soon the autumn colors are bringing us once again to the season of Advent...

The journey through our church seasons reveals the mystery of God’s plan as it unfolds for us in the life of the church, and we are reminded that with each transition, there is something new again. 

In God’s Creation, there is a rhythmic cycle with the organic flow of our four seasons. Every three months, a transition to the next. Depressed by the gray, gloominess of winter? The warmth of spring is right around the corner. Tired of spring showers? The long, hot days of summer are ahead. Worn down by the heat and smog? The cooler glorious world of autumn awaits you. Bored and weary with autumn? Grab the winter coat, gather the firewood and prepare for those long, frosty winter nights. We are reminded that with each transition, there is something new again.

So it is with the seasons of life. You may be in a springtime season of new birth and growth. You may be feeling as if caught in the dry, tiring days of what seems like an endless summer. This may be a contemplative, peaceful autumn time of thanksgiving for you. Or you may find yourself in the cold, dark, loneliness of a long winter season.

Seasons of life. Each with its own set of experiences and the passing of each season leaving behind memories of what was. Some seasons of life are filled with pain and discomfort and leave behind uncertainties, fears and doubts. And God says: “But forget all that-- it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19 New Living Translation)  Praise God! I love how He puts that. All these worries and struggles you're going through? Forget about all that! God says, just you wait until you see what this next season will bring! He reminds us that with each life transition, there is something new again.

Remember that no matter what season of life we’re in, there are three guarantees we can count on: 1) This present season will come to an end. 2) God has already begun to do something new for you in the next season. And, 3) The one unchanging constant that we can trust in and count on is this: God is standing with us in this season and He is waiting for us in the next.  Amen?


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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Beware of Christian Kryptonite

Dear Friends,

It’s a bird..It’s a Plane..It’s Superman! I loved that old black and white tv show as a kid and more than anything else, I wanted to be like Superman when I grew up. While Sunday School flannel boards were teaching me the biblical stories, Superman was teaching me Christian behavior and values. Using his superpowers to help others, Superman fought for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” I practiced my flying at an early age. Jumping off the back of the couch with a little blue blanket around my neck like a cape, I could fly the entire three feet until I hit the floor. 

Superman had been given incredible powers: superhuman strength, superhearing and of course the very cool “x-ray” vision. And his powers were never used for his own selfish needs. They were only to be used to help others. Strong Judeo-Christian elements are woven through the Superman story. His birth name was Kay-El, Hebrew for “Voice of God.” His back story is the story of Moses and Superman is an analogy of the Messiah - Jesus Christ - sent to earth as a Savior of humanity.

But alas, unlike Jesus, Superman had a nemesis. Something that could strip away his superpowers and leave the Man of Steel weak and helpless. That one thing that could destroy Superman was the green, glowing crystal called Kryptonite.

As a child, more than anything, I wanted to have superpowers so that I could help others, and it was many years later that God answered those prayers. I never received superhuman powers but did receive supernatural powers. I still can’t fly but I can use my supernatural powers for the good of others. (May God forgive me when I don’t)  And, I’ve learned that I need to watch out for the Kryptonite.

When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior we receive the whole Triune package: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. When we subsequently receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we receive one or more of the spiritual gifts that Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. Perhaps we are given words of Wisdom or Knowledge. A gift of Faith or Healings. The working of Miracles or Prophecy or the gift of Discernment of Spirits. Maybe even Tongues or the ability to Interpret Tongues of others. But none are given for our own use. The New Living Translation probably says it best: “A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church.” (Verse 7)

When the Holy Spirit activates these gifts - our “superpowers” - God desires that they flow strongly within us and are always used for His purposes: for the good of others. That’s why we need to watch out for the Kryptonite

The early church called them the “SEVEN DEADLY SINS” and they will indeed deaden your ministry to others, rob you of your supernatural gifts and weaken you to the point of depression, discouragement, despondency and despair.

Our Christian Kryptonite is one or more of those seven sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Wrath is our uncontrolled anger that leads to self-destructive bitterness and unforgiveness of others. Greed is the pursuit of material things. We laugh and call it “shopping therapy;” God calls it “sin.” Sloth is more than just physical laziness, it’s spiritual laziness. And Sloth is anytime we fail to do what God wants us to do. When we don’t use our gifts of the Holy Spirit for others, we are practicing the sin of Sloth. Pride is the deadliest of the seven. Pride caused Lucifer to fall from Heaven and become Satan. Our Pride delivers us into his hands. Lust is an intense, ungodly desire for anything that is spiritually unhealthy for us to have. Envy is biblically defined as the feeling of discontent towards that which is possessed by others. Be thankful to God for the blessings He has given you. Envy is coveting what He has given to others. Gluttony is a selfish and unhealthy overindulgence. Whether food or drink, we thoughtlessly consume and ignore the needs of others in our world who are starving and thirsty. 

Identify the gifts that the Holy Spirit has activated within you. Then use those spiritual “superpowers” wisely for the good of others. And if you ever start feeling flattened by life and spiritually weak, look deep within and check yourself for the deadly presence of Kryptonite. Amen?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Jesus Christ, Rebel with a Cause

Dear Friends,

I’m a little embarrassed to have to tell you that God has been pressing in and dealing with me about my offensiveness to others. To be faced with this stumble in my Christian walk is discomforting to say the least. I don’t say this to justify my unChristlike behavior, but I suppose I am no more or no less offensive than the majority of Christian believers. We move carefully through our days trying to say and do the right things as we seek the approval of others so that they will like us. We may even work hard at times to bite our tongue so that we don’t offend people with our faith. In our increasingly secular culture, we’re not even sure if it’s still okay to say “God bless you” when someone sneezes. We try hard to not be offensive to others and in my own eyes, I’m doing a good job with that. And that’s the problem. Because when I look at the world through the eyes of Jesus, I realize that I’m not being nearly offensive enough.

Today’s church has sanitized our Savior to the degree that He has become an inoffensive and mild-mannered Rabbi and not the maverick Rebel that He was. But if He was only the gentle Jesus telling stories with the children sitting on His lap, He would have never been crucified. Jesus was killed because He continually offended the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. He condemned their legalistic beliefs and told them that their pedantic religious practices had excluded God’s people from living their lives in the presence of their Holy Father. (Matt 23:13)


Jesus offended money changers in the temple by telling them, “My house shall be called a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.” (Matt 21:12-13) Today, He would be in mega-churches and kicking over tables selling the guest speaker’s books, DVD’s, “anointed” prayer cloths and cheesy gift items imprinted with their ministry logo.

Jesus offended the universalists in His day and those of other religions by telling them, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Today, Jesus would not be permitted to preach His exclusionary theology in most mainline churches for fear of offending those who have diluted the Gospel with the teachings of Oprah and believe that all spiritual pathways and beliefs lead to God and eternal life.

Jesus offended sinners by telling them, “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” (Mark 10:6-8) Can we really get any more politically incorrect than that these days? By offending the transgender political lobby and same sex marriage advocates, Jesus would be banned today from our Nation’s schools, military organizations, many churches and of course, the White House.

Jesus did not come to conform Himself to the religious culture of the day. He came to confront and transform that culture – to reform and redeem it. Jesus did not play it safe. He was a dangerous threat to their status quo. He was both politically and religiously incorrect. Always righteous. Always loving. Always offensive.

We slide down a slippery slope when we try hard to conform ourselves to the prevailing culture and contort our Christian beliefs to be non-offensive to others. It’s been said that if you try to become what everybody wants you to be, you’ll become somebody you don’t want to be. Remain on that slope and eventually you'll find yourself at the bottom. Looking deep within your own soul and unable to even recognize the person you've become.

Maybe one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make as a sojourner in this world is who you will offend. It’s guaranteed you’ll be offending someone. The only question is, who? Speaking God’s Word will offend atheists and liberal Christians alike. Not speaking God’s Word will offend Jesus. 
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38)  


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Need More?

Dear Friends,

I was in Pasadena and saw a homeless guy on a street corner. He was standing next to his shopping cart that was piled about seven feet high with stuff. He was holding a brown cardboard sign that just said: NEED MORE. I thought, What could this guy need more of? He wouldn’t be able to fit one more thing in his shopping cart. My next thought was that what he needs is more of God. And then I realized that’s exactly what I need too. Maybe I need to carry a sign that says: NEED MORE GOD.

Psalm 42:1-2 says: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Some of us hunger and thirst for more. Like an animal driven by instinct to find streams of waters to satiate it’s thirst, we are driven by Holy Spirit intrinsic desires to find the streams of Living Waters to satiate our thirst. But how do we get more of God?

The Apostle Paul said, I beseech you (I urge you) therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1) In the old covenant, worship to God had been through a system of sacrifices. But under the new covenant, we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice as worship to God. And Paul is not saying that a sacrificial lifestyle of worship is something just for the very religious or the monk in the cave. It’s the normal, rational and reasonable way for the “ordinary” believers like you and me. Some people tend to look at people who are constantly worshiping the Lord as some kind of zealous nutcase. But Paul says that a lifestyle of worship is simply our “reasonable service” – our normal behavior. Worship is not for the spiritually mature, it’s for the spiritually hungry.
 
King David’s kind of worship was not an event or a period of time he set aside on a weekly or daily basis, it was his lifestyle. David’s kind of worship takes place inside the sanctuary, but even more importantly it takes place outside the sanctuary. It begins when he wakes up in the morning and ends when he falls asleep at night. David writes “Blessed are those who hear the joyful blast of the trumpet, for they shall walk in the light of your presence. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation and in your perfect righteousness. You are their strength. What glory! Our power is based on your favor!” (Psalm 89:15-17)  How do you get more God?  Rejoice all day long in the light of God’s awesome presence!

Worship was David’s number one priority. Nothing he did during his day was more important than being in God’s presence through worship. King David’s worship lifestyle was uncompromising. It was wholehearted. David had total commitment to God and worshiped Him with all of his heart. David’s worship was a witness to others. When we worship with all our heart, people take notice. When people see the Jesus in us, they are drawn to God by and through our worship. They see God’s presence in our lives when we worship and they want and need that.

My thought about the homeless guy with the NEED MORE sign was this: He may want  more, but there is really no way he can get more with his cart piled high with junk. He can’t really fit anything else in until he gets rid of some of the useless stuff he already has. (You probably already know where I’m going with this...) Do you need more God, but just don’t seem to have the time to fit Him into your overstuffed life? Read this paragraph again.

Here’s the bottom line. Take a good hard look at your relationship with God. You may not need more God. If you think you have all of Him you’ll ever need, than you’re good.

Do you need more God? Worship! You may need to schedule and set aside certain times throughout your day. Need more God but don’t have the time or energy to spend with the Lord? You may want to clean out your cart!  Amen?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The "Promise" of a Proverb

Dear Friends,

She was born into a Christian family. Her mother was a believer and her father had come from a Gospel singing family of Pentecostals. She was christened “Destiny Hope” and was brought up in church. She was baptized in the Southern Baptist Church at age 12 and described her church as her extended family. As a young teenager, she wore a purity ring for all to see that she was deeply committed to a lifestyle of sexual purity and abstinence until marriage. She read her Bible daily and had publicly described herself and her family as “hard-core Christians.” She said, “Jesus is who saved me. He’s what keeps me full and whole.. Hopefully I can influence people and help them follow the same path I am on.”

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” We can only image how proud Destiny Hope’s parents were at this point in her life. Their daughter’s strong faith, her love of God, her commitment to follow Jesus and her desire to be a light in the darkness for others to follow, was evidence that they had indeed done a wonderful job in training her up. They may have even read that verse as a promise that she would not depart from all they had taught her. But what happened? At what point in this child’s life did the purity ring fall off her finger?


Changing her name from Destiny Hope Cyrus to Miley Ray Cyrus, she posed nude for a magazine cover when she was 15. When she was 17, her party-lifestyle was being written about in articles that questioned if she was still a Christian believer. At the Teen Choice awards, she danced with a pole like a stripper and outraged the parents of her young fans. She begin to mock her Christian fans who spoke out against her raunchy behavior. Last year she tweeted a quote to all her followers that said, “You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, all those things that matter for evolution) weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in stars. So forget Jesus. Stars died for you to live.That quote was a blasphemous denial of God – of her faith.

Most of you know that during a recent music awards show, this former Disney child-star styled her hair to resemble the horns of the devil and was so inappropriate and borderline pornographic that even the jaded Hollywood types were shaking their heads in disgust. She has 28 million followers on social media, most of whom are teenage girls. Last week she released her new soft-porn music video of her dancing naked while perversely licking a sledge hammer. “Hopefully I can influence people and help them follow the same path I am on.”

All of America is now watching the moral self-destruction of this once strong Christian. For some it’s “schadenfreude” and for others it’s just very sad. And for those of us who have had children and grand-children that walked away from their faith and into a troubled lifestyle, we know only too well the shame and pain that her parents must be feeling today.

Raising our children in the church, teaching them to love and follow Jesus, demonstrating Christian beliefs and values in our home, does indeed set our children on the right path. But many churches teach that Proverbs 22:6 is an ironclad guarantee. Do a good job as a Christian parent and your child will keep the faith forever. But that could only be guaranteed if his/her freewill were taken away. And, God has given every person the choice to follow Him or not. So our job is to do the absolute best we can as a Christian parent and then hope and pray that our children will continue to make the choice to follow God into adulthood.

Despite the Christian values taught by her parents, her church, and her pastors, Destiny Hope has now chosen to follow the lust of the world. (See 1 John 2:15-17) If your heart breaks for a lost child or grandchild right now, please know that God has not abandoned them any more than He’s abandoned Destiny Hope. And don’t let the devil instill any guilt over your children. After all, he was the one who lured them away. An editor of a Christian magazine recently wrote: Did Miley Cyrus sell her soul to the devil? We don’t know. But we do know this. That the devil can never take our children to a place where God can’t reach them.  Amen?

The AMEN Corner is a weekly devotional for the family and friends of New Hope Family Church. It is intended for this devotional to be strengthening, encouraging or comforting and your comments too should be for the glory of God and reflect the intended purpose of these posts.

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