Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's Not About the Turkey!

This AMEN Corner originally published November 27, 2013

Dear Friends,

I had read about a Washington D.C. politician who was vilifying the church and Christians because we don’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) who were 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 19, 2014

Thin Places

Dear Friends,

The 200 year old church sanctuary at Mission La Purisima...  In the high desert, it’s the holy grounds at the Benedictine Monastery, Saint Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo...  It’s the sacred gardens at Santa Ynez Mission where we always take Holy Communion...  These are my “thin places.”

In Celtic Christianity, thin places are those physical locations where God’s presence is more accessible than elsewhere. The Celts were keenly aware of the Cross over all of God’s Creation and were very much aware of their physical surroundings. The Celtic Saint Patrick prayed as he walked, “Christ beside me, before me, behind me, around me, within me.. everywhere.” The sacred and holy places spoken of by the Celtic Christians were where the line between Heaven and Earth was “tissue-paper thin.” Where the Holy Spirit of God seemed as near as one’s own breath. These are the thin places. Places that take us effortlessly into God’s presence and invite transformation in us. Places where we sense the nearness of Him and the life-changing reality of His mercy and grace. These sanctified thin places are the places that we step into and come “face-to-face” with God. 

I love walking along the shoreline next to the ocean. The cyclical tides remind me of the rhythm of our days – the rhythm of our lives. As with our life, there are times of sunny calmness with warm, gentle waves to sooth the soul, and then there are times when fierce storms pound the shores with unrelenting waves of fury and life-threatening danger. At the ocean’s edge, I am reminded of God’s sovereignty and providence. It’s a place where I always come away refreshed and restored. But it’s not one of my “thinnest” places.

Like the beach for me, there are many places we enjoy going to that make us happy, thoughtful, relaxed and filled with a sense of peace and well-being. But then there are those inimitable places where we feel a mysteriously deep connection with God that just about takes our breath away at the intensity of the experience. Places where He is just one step away and we are overwhelmed by His presence. Those are the thin places.

While the term “thin places” does not occur in scripture, we find Jesus frequently withdrawing to a place where He can come “face-to-face” with God. Leaving behind the distraction of places crowded with people, the Son withdrew to those places nearest to God. Jesus, like you and I, could stop what He was doing at any time to speak to the Heavenly Father, but to more fully come into His presence, Jesus went to the thin places.

He started His earthly ministry by going to the wilderness – the desert. (Luke 4:1-2) Jesus went to the mountain-top to choose His disciples. (Luke 6:12) When John the Baptist was beheaded, Jesus went to a thin place for reflection and prayer, (Matthew 14:13) and later that day went back to the mountain-top to pray. (Matthew 14:23) Jesus started His days in silence and solitude at a thin place where He could come fully into God’s presence. (Mark 1:35)

As did Jesus, we also need to spend quality time in the presence of God. We need to step away from the chaos and clamor of life and into the quiet. We need to turn down the volume of our cluttered thoughts and come into His peace. Jesus had to do that and He withdrew into those places of silence and solitude to meet God. We too need to find those sacred spaces where the noise in our head quiets and we come into His presence.

Those are the “ordinary” sacred spaces that you can easily get to. Maybe your backyard or a quiet room in the house is your sanctuary. Maybe it’s the early morning walk where you rejoice in God’s Creation. God is always present in our lives but it’s in the sacred spaces that the din of life recedes and you can hear the small, quiet voice of God. 

And then there are the thin places. Places sacred and holy because they have been sanctified and saturated in prayer for centuries. Places where the intake of our breath inhales the Holy Spirit. Places so close to God that we tremble with fear to reach out and touch Him but where He will always reach out and touch us. Your thin places will not be mine. They will be yours. Find them and go there often.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Time to Connect Charger?


Dear Friends,

Something in my house was calling to me. Something was trying to tell me that it was in trouble but I couldn’t find it. It was crying out for help but I didn’t know where it was. It was in the quiet times in my house that I could hear it. It was a high-pitched “beep” but it was so infrequent I couldn’t place its location. And sadly it was losing strength. The low battery alert beep was getting weaker. Its power ebbing away. Pretty soon it would be too late for this little electronic device. The batteries would die and soon become corroded. If the leaking acid corrupted the inside of the device, it would be too late to install new batteries and bring it back to life.

Sometimes, when I’m home alone.. When I'm far from the din and chaos of life.. When everything is quiet.. I’ll sense a quiet warning beep in my spirit. And just like the electronic device sending out the low battery alert, the “warning beep” in my spirit, tells me that something’s wrong. The power that God has graced me with through the Holy Spirit is ebbing away. My spirit is losing strength. There's a shallowness to my soul. I find myself spiritually dry and thirsty and feeling as if something life-sustaining is missing. That’s when I need to go on a hunt for the cause of my spiritual warning beep.

Can one slip so far away from God that their spiritual power completely dies and their soul becomes so corroded with the world that a line has been crossed and there's no going back? Different church traditions disagree about that, but here's what I know. That's nothing I want to experiment with. God is a patient God and He has been far more merciful to me than I deserve, but I don't want to stray so far that I can’t find my way back.

A father and his son were walking far from home. On each side of the path was a dark and dense forest. The little boy asked his father if he could go off the path to explore in the woods. The father said he could but told him that once he stepped off the path he would be unable to see his father and could easily become lost. The little boy became worried and told his father that he wouldn't want to leave the path if he could get lost. The father said, “That's okay, son.  It'll be safe for you to leave the path. I'll just keep calling out to you and as long as you can hear the sound of my voice, you'll be able to make your way back to me.” The little boy thought about that and said, “How will I know if I've gone too far?” And his father replied, “You'll know you've gone too far when you can no longer hear the sound of my voice.”

When my soul becomes dry and thirsty and I begin to feel distanced from God, I respond immediately. I don't want to go too far. One of the convicting passages of scripture is Hebrews 6:4-6. It is unlikely any one of us will ever fall away to the extent that we lose our relationship with God, but we can easily fall away to become spiritually sluggish. And that spiritual sloth creates a distance between us and God. That’s why, when we sense those “warning beeps” in our spirit, we need to respond immediately to examine our spiritual lives and begin our relentless search for the cause.

If you feel your spiritual energies draining away, you need to act quickly. Reach around to the point on your back, right between the shoulder blades, and open up the little plastic door. You’ll see three batteries in a small compartment. One battery is marked “GOD'S WORD.” The second battery is labeled “WORSHIP” and the third one is marked, “PRAYER.” And those three batteries need to be kept charged up at all times. If you’re feeling spiritually sluggish, which one of those needs recharging the most right now?

God’s promise is that He will be with us until the end of time so if we are feeling distanced from Him, we need to look within. A husband and his wife were driving home from their 25th wedding anniversary celebration. He was driving the car and she was sitting in the passenger seat, leaning against the door and looking out the window. As they drove on home, she started to weep. The husband asked her what was wrong. She said, “Do you remember when we were first married that we used to sit close together and cuddle whenever we went driving somewhere?” The husband looked at her from behind the stirring wheel and said, “Honey... I never moved.”

Do you remember that time early in your Christian walk when you were so close to God that you could just feel the intimacy of His presence in your life? Well, God never moved. And He's waiting for you to recharge your spiritual batteries and move back to Him.  Amen?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Be a Blessor


Dear Friends,

It’s called the Chinese Blessing Scam and it has recently targeted elderly Chinese victims in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Alhambra. A “spiritual healer” encounters a well-dressed older victim in a public place and “sees” that a curse of illness and impending death has been placed on the person or the person’s loved ones. The only way to “break the curse” is to have something of enormous value blessed by the “healer.” The person goes to the bank to withdraw large amounts of cash along with valuables from their safe deposit box to be “blessed” and you can guess the ultimate outcome of this scam.

Police say the elderly Chinese are easy targets because their cultural religion is composed of pagan superstitions and folk beliefs involving the worship of numerous gods and goddesses who bless or curse people. Spiritual healers are paid to “heal” people of major illnesses including diabetes and cancer by using herbs and magical talismans to break the deity’s curse. In Asian neighborhoods, scam artists have taken advantage of these folk beliefs to victimize the elderly and vulnerable.

But God’s blessings are not for sale! They are free of charge, and in fact, He loads a heap of free blessings upon us daily (Psalm 68:19 NKJ) His blessings and mercies are so vast and endless that they are renewed every morning! (Lamentations 3:22-23) And He then appoints people like you and me to be His “Blessors.” You could even say that, as Christians, that’s our job – to bless others.

It’s asking for God's favor on another person that changes us from just being blessed to being a Blessor. Invoking God's favor on another brings a renewed awareness of God into their thoughts and the reality of His presence into their lives.
  
Our spoken blessing over another, commends that person to God through our petition. We bless in the name of God because we acknowledge Him as the source of the blessing. When we say, “Bless you in the name of Jesus” we are invoking the fullness of His love and grace. When we say, “May God bless you today,” we connect that person to their Creator and open him or her up to receive all that God has for them that day. And, when we impart God’s blessings to another, we often see an immediate transformation of their countenance. They have sensed God’s presence and feel His peace.

Sometimes the simple act of blessing another brings the healing power of the Holy Spirit. We were at a woman’s boutique clothing store in Ventura when God gave me the opportunity to minister to someone working there. As I simply laid hands on and blessed the woman, her knees buckled and I caught her to keep her from falling as she stumbled backwards. She told me that she was into New Age healing but had never felt a “force” like that. I told her that she had just experienced the power of the Holy Spirit and the one true God was getting her attention.

Pronouncing a blessing over another is not just a feel good phrase. We can nonchalantly toss out our “blessings to you” as if we were saying “have a nice day.” But when our blessings are shallow and perfunctory, we miss the opportunity of truly conveying the life-changing power of God. When you thoughtfully bless others, always be specific about it if you can and if it's appropriate. Invoke God's blessings of peace, grace, comfort or strength in the name of Jesus. Blessing another, in the power of the Holy Spirit, can become a transformative, life-changing moment for them.

You are all blessed indeed. But I believe that God wants more for you. He wants you to be His partner in the blessing business. He wants you to be an authorized distributor of His blessings to others. He wants you to bless your family and your friends. God wants you to bless the strangers that He sends to you. God wants you to be the one who intersects the life of the checker at the grocery store when he’s stressed and depressed.  God wants you in the clothing store when the worker gets the call that her grandmother had a stroke and He wants you to be at the hairdressers when the stylist's son has a high fever. God wants you to speak life-transforming blessings into the lives of others. God wants you to be a Blessor!  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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