Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Praying For Mass Shooting Survivors

Taylor Sharpe Schumann
Dear Friends,

For most of us who are Christians, as soon as we heard the news, we prayed. For those killed, we can only pray, “May God have mercy on their souls” because we know they are now where they were destined to be, and those who need our prayers the most are the loved ones left behind. And then perhaps we pray the longest and hardest for the seriously wounded, knowing that for some, the severity of their injuries will cause suffering for the rest of their lives. 

Taylor Schumann was an employee at New River Community College in Christiansburg, Virginia when a student walked in and shot her and another student with a shotgun. That was six years ago and after four surgeries, Taylor has only about 30% use of her hand. She writes, “I believe in the power of prayer. I know firsthand what living through a shooting does to a mind and what a bullet does to a body, and I believe that my recovery and healing is a direct result of prayers that were prayed for me.” If you would like to know how to pray for those wounded in the recent mass shootings, the following was an online post that she wrote. 

Pray for physical wounds, pain, and future treatments.
Managing bullet wounds is often a process of trial and error, where it can take days for doctors to figure out how to provide comfort. Many survivors face years of recovery, including surgeries and physical rehabilitation. Pray that they would experience a relief from the physical pain, that the lasting effects of the wounds would be minimal, and they would have the strength to persevere through the treatments to come.

Pray for invisible wounds. 
Survivors have witnessed the unimaginable, oftentimes seeing people they love also wounded or killed. These are images that will never leave their minds. Whether or not they were wounded, they are processing their near-death experience and wondering what their new reality will be. Many survivors will deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Pray for the emotional trauma they are dealing with. Pray that they would have access to counseling, therapy, and whatever type of mental health treatment that they need.

Pray for wisdom for doctors, nurses, and medical specialists. 
Pray for wisdom as they make medical decisions, steady hands as they perform surgeries and kindness as they care for their patients.

Pray against nightmares and for the ability to sleep and rest
For me, one of the hardest things in the days following the shooting was sleeping. I was terrified to close my eyes, and when I did, I suffered through nightmares. After a significant trauma, the body needs sleep. Pray that the survivors are able to able to rest without fear.  

Pray for financial provision for medical costs and other needs. 
The financial impact of being shot is devastating for families, especially if the person hurt was the family wage-earner or will live with a lifelong disability. Please pray for financial provision for hospital bills, ongoing care, materials needed to function well, and ongoing mental health treatment.

Pray for guidance and support during the legal process.
In incidents where the shooters are taken into custody, survivors face a long and tedious legal process full of court proceedings. They will be asked to testify about the worst day of their lives and forced to listen to the traumatizing details. I know firsthand how overwhelming this process can be. Pray they would have support and guidance as authorities work to bring shooters to justice.

Pray they would have a strong support system for the long haul. 
Supporting a shooting survivor is not a short-term endeavor. Please pray that each survivor will have an unbreakable support system, full of people who will love them and care for them and not abandon them if it gets difficult.

Pray against re-traumatization after other shootings. 
For a survivor, it can feel impossible to experience healing when we are constantly having to relive our experience with each new mass shooting that happens. Every time we are flooded with the memories of our experience. For a lot of us, this includes things like PTSD symptoms and panic attacks. Pray that God would provide a peace that surpasses all understanding and strength when they are weak.

Keep praying. 
If I can convince you to do just one thing on this list, I hope it is this one. Keep praying. For many survivors, including myself, the day of the shooting is not the hardest day. The hardest day comes later, when you are confronted with your new reality in the aftermath. When the cards stop coming, when people stop asking how you are, and when the news cycle changes, you begin to feel forgotten and isolated. People praying for you months and years after the shooting is a significant way to show support.

God knows the needs of survivors, so I don’t believe it is necessary to know exactly what to pray for in order to pray. However, when we acknowledge the specific needs of others, we are better able to empathize with them, love them, and serve them. We are also better able to recognize the deep and ongoing trauma of gun violence that lasts long after the news cameras are gone.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Spiritual Batteries Low?


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. I could hear it crying out for help but I didn’t know what or where it was. In the quiet times in my house I could hear it. It was a high-pitched “beep” but it was so faint and 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 soon die and  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 away from Him 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 find 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, “Dear... I never moved.”

Do you remember that time 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 dear friend... God never moved. And He's waiting for you to recharge your spiritual batteries and move back to Him.  Amen?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

A Heavenly Eucharist!


Dear Friends, 

For those of you close to my age, you remember where you were and what you were doing when President Kennedy was shot. You remember the moment you heard that Elvis had died. You remember when Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. That was July 20, 1969 and the 50th anniversary of that enormously important event in America’s history was celebrated last Saturday. Armstrong was the first to step out of the lunar module and said: “One small step for a man, one giant step for mankind.” Then, Aldrin stepped onto the moon’s surface and both men spent the next 2½ hours walking and exploring with our Nation transfixed in awe as we watched the camera feed and listened to the live broadcast.

When Armstrong died in 2012 I started to reminisce about that historic moon landing and as I scanned the various published articles about the voyage of Apollo 11, I read something that I had not heard before. As soon as the lunar module had landed, and before Armstrong’s historic first footstep and statement, something happened of even greater importance that was not broadcast. What we heard was Aldrin saying: “This is the lunar module pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way."

In the radio silence that followed, listen to Aldrin describe what happened next: “In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the scripture, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in Me will bring forth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.’ I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”

Aldrin had wanted to broadcast the Communion but NASA had refused for fear of lawsuits by atheists. Aldrin was an ordained elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas and the bread was a piece from a loaf consecrated by his pastor at a communion service the week before the Moon landing. Aldrin said that he and his pastor wanted to “express our feeling that what man was doing in this mission transcended electronics and computers and rockets.” He said that “There are many of us in the NASA program who believe that what we are doing is part of God’s eternal plan for man.” 

Buzz Aldrin – this man of God – took the Presence of Jesus Christ to the moon. Among the first words spoken after the lunar landing was scripture – the words of Jesus Christ as recorded in John 15:5. The first meal served on the moon was the Lord’s Supper. The world’s most epic event in space featured the Eucharist! 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What Would You Do?


Dear Friends,

The psychology department at a seminary conducted an unusual behavioral experiment. A class of seminary students was told that their professor was unable to make it that day and another instructor would give them their mid-term exam. The students, studying for the priesthood, were given a passage of scripture and told to write a two page paper explaining their interpretation. The instructor told them that he was unable to stay and the students would need to monitor themselves. He told them that at exactly five minutes before the end of class, all the students would need to leave together in one group and turn their papers in to the administration office. The students were warned that they only had five minutes to get to the office and any paper not turned in by the deadline would result in zero credit on an exam that was worth 40% of the final grade. The instructor left and the class began the assignment. They finished and all left together for the administration building. As they were walking down a narrow eight foot wide hallway, a man walking ahead of them suddenly collapsed on the floor and appeared to be seriously ill. He was clutching his chest and gasping for breath.

All but three students stepped over him to hurry to the administration building as the man lay groaning on the floor. The three who stopped to help the man did so assuming that as a result of their action they were going to get zero credit for their mid-term and possibly fail the class. But remember the students didn’t know that this was only an experiment devised by the seminary’s psychology department. So no actual grades were to be given for the paper. In fact, if a grade had been given, the three who stopped to help the man would have received A’s. The seminary students who stepped over the man in their rush to turn in their papers would have been given F’s. The sick man was an actor friend of the instructor. And the passage of scripture the students had just been asked to write about  was the parable of the Good Samaritan. Before you continue reading, stop for a moment and ask yourself what you would have done if you had been one of those students...

The man..asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” Luke 10:29-37 NLT

When I am comfortably sitting in my reading chair with Christian music in the background and a cat on my lap, it’s easy for me to read my Bible and imagine myself doing the right thing if I had been the seminary student or the “Good Samaritan” in the parable told by Jesus. It’s when I get up from my chair and step out into the messy world, that doing “what Jesus would do” can challenge my faith.

Last week, I’m at the post office to mail the printed copies of the AMEN Corners and there is a homeless person sitting on the concrete and leaning up against the building next to the glass doors. As I’m crossing the parking lot, I see several people walking up, glancing at the person but then looking quickly away. As I got closer, I could see why. He was a large, Black man in his twenties. Clean looking. But on his left arm the skin was split open as if an abscess had burst leaving a large hole. There was no blood but the visible white layer of fat on his arm surrounded by his dark black skin was startling to see. As I watched the people walking ahead of me hurry on by not wanting to look at this young man, the parable of the Good Samaritan came to mind and I could hear Jesus say, “This is your neighbor.”

Jesus says to “love your neighbor” and my neighbors make it easy for me to do so. I love Nick and Liz, my Christian neighbors who live right next door. I love Albert and Heather, the young couple who recently moved in across the street and are expecting their first child. I love Jeff and Trish – we used to go to church together. It’s easy for me to love my neighbors and pray for them. But then Jesus takes a nice, safe, hypothetical Bible story about a good Samaritan and drops it into the reality of my day. 

Put yourself in my place as you watch the good citizens of Sylmar hurry past the suffering young man lying there at the post office. As you approach, he looks up and your eyes meet. You hear Jesus say: “This is your neighbor.” What would you do?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Why Do You Go To Church?


Maria has been faithfully attending our services for the past three years. She is a small, frail woman in her eighties who speaks no English at all. She listens to the pastor singing unfamiliar hymns and worship songs and hears prayers and a sermon in a language she does not understand. She has difficulty walking but always struggles to her feet and reverently crosses herself before receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ during Communion. Once when her daughter joined her for the Sunday service I told her how much I appreciated her mom being there even though the service was in English. She told me her mom always feels the peace of God after attending the service. 
A woman who attended a high-energy Pentecostal church told me that she was bored in the service and “not being fed” by the pastor’s sermons and needed to find another church where she could again feel excited about going to church on Sunday. (“not being fed” is what we say when we don’t enjoy the pastor’s sermons but we want to say that in a way that makes us sound more spiritual than shallow) A woman in a mainline liturgical church wrote: “Frankly I just don’t get much out of the Sunday morning thing. A lot of the time, I like the music, particularly when it’s contemporary. But there is a lot that goes on Sunday morning that doesn’t do much for me. Am I supposed to feel something? What is the good of the praying and the singing and the sitting and the listening?” These two women are religious “spectators” and I understand the point they are making and why they feel that way. They attend their church as they would attend any music concert, lecture, class or movie – as a nonparticipant who simply sits and listens and expects to be entertained, emotionally moved or taught something that will be of personal interest to them.

If church really is only about the music and the message then I’d be the first one to say that it is pointless to attend any church considering that we live in an entertainment-oriented world where we can watch professionally produced church services that rival any Las Vegas show. On any web-connected device I can live-stream services of Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Charles Stanley and other church superstars. So why do I need to sit through a sermon at that little neighborhood church? I can download music from the top worship bands in America’s mega-churches, so why do I need to listen to amateur worship singers in church? A pastor has an online church that even celebrates Holy Communion. She pauses during her taped service while you run to the fridge and fetch the grape juice or something else to drink and then get a cracker or grab a cookie. As you watch her read the words of the ritual, whatever beverage you have in the glass is automatically turned into the “blood” of Jesus. Then as you hold your Oreo cookie up to the screen on your phone, her prayer of consecration turns it into the “body” of Jesus Christ. Is this the church that Jesus founded 2,000 years ago? Something is missing.

Jesus established the “church” (Greek: ecclesia meaning a community of believers) to glorify God and worship Him forever. Centuries later, church leaders turned His church into an institution that became the “mediator” between the believer and God. The Protestant reformation turned back to the first Century church that focused on a personal relationship between believer and God, but many of today’s Americanized Protestant services have become performance events with professional worship bands, short, funny, self-help messages by pastors and, for some, an unrelenting focus on social justice activism. Something is missing.

What’s missing is what Jesus established the church to do. It’s missing our reverent worship. The church is a “thin place.” In Celtic spirituality, thin places are where the ordinary of our lives and the holiness of God meet and our worship moves us between both of those realities. Thin places are often described as being where the veil between heaven and earth seems transparent. The sacrament of the Eucharist pulls back the veil and reveals the presence of God. During the moment in the service when the Eucharistic Prayer is said over the bread and wine, the sanctuary becomes thick with His Presence. If you have never experienced church as a “thin place,” you have never experienced the church as it was meant to be. Author Annie Dillard writes, “If we really understood the power we routinely invoke during Sunday worship, we’d wear crash helmets in church.” 

Our ecclesia – our community of believers – is where we gather to glorify God and worship Him. But if our focus is solely on what the church can do for us, then we will inevitably become  disappointed. Church is not our spiritual health spa, it’s where we go to worship the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The service is not for us and not about us. It’s all about God. But it’s when you gather on a Sunday morning to worship and glorify God, that’s when He reaches down and touches us. When we worship Him, we are changed–transformed–and we leave church a different person than when we walked in those doors.
It doesn’t matter to Maria that her church service is in a language that she doesn’t understand. She is there to worship God. She knows the English words “God” and “Jesus” and so she knows that the songs being sung are hymns and worship songs. She hears those two familiar Names in the prayers and in the sermons. That’s all she needs to know. She knows that worship is taking place and in her heart and in her language, she joins right in. She is not there to be entertained or educated but to worship her God. And in doing so, He meets her right there and takes her into His presence. She loves God and knows that He loves her. She feels His peace. She comes to worship and leaves transformed. That’s why she comes to church.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Changing The Lord's Prayer?


Dear Friends,

Pope Frances shocked the Catholic world and angered conservative Catholic theologians by changing the words of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Prayer. Even the Protestant world was dismayed. The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said, “This is the Lord’s Prayer. It is not and never has been the Pope’s prayer and we have the very words of Jesus in the New Testament. It is those very words that are being changed and this is deeply problematic.” Catholics call it the “Our Father” and Protestants call it the “Lord’s Prayer” and it is the most memorized and most often recited prayer in the Bible. This prayer Matthew 6:9-13 is in the Sermon on the Mount which was spoken by Jesus in Aramaic and recorded by Matthew in Greek. But the Pope determined that in the Lord’s Prayer, the words, “lead us not into temptation” were a bad translation of the Greek and a more proper translation was, “do not let us fall into temptation.” His argument was that God does not lead us into temptation and he said, “a father does not do that.” Let’s see what the Bible says...

First, this is really a “bad” translation? Matthew’s Greek is “kai me eisphero hemeis eis peirasmos” and the literal word-for-word translation into English is “And do not bring us into temptation.” For over 2,000 years, all Christians have been praying an accurate and literal translation of Jesus’ words but the Vatican recently concluded, “From a theological, pastoral and stylistic viewpoint this wording is incorrect.” Can Jesus really be “theologically incorrect”? Of course not. If His words are unclear or confusing to our 21st Century ears, than we need to use good biblical exegesis to interpret and explain this petition and not change the meaning of His words in order to “correct” the Son of God.

The Greek “peirasmos” (underlined above) refers to trials, testing and temptation.  When it is the devil who brings the peirasmos, it is for the purpose of causing one to fall. When God brings about the peirasmos, it is for the purpose of proving someone and teaching someone about themselves and their relationship with Him, but God never causes us to fall or fail. 

I was only about seven or eight but it was one of those major life events that I still remember clearly. I was a tall, skinny, clumsy kid standing on the sidewalk in front of our house with my father. I fearfully watched as my dad used a wrench to loosen the bolts so that he could remove the training wheels from my bicycle. I was scared. It was a test of my ability to ride on just the two wheels and I had no confidence in myself. I knew that I was going to crash and burn, but my dad had been watching me ride and he knew I could do it. He was an athletic young man and he told me that he would run alongside me when I started to peddle and he would catch me if I fell. I shoved off and started to peddle for dear life. As I increased my speed, I was soon going faster than my dad could run and I was now flying down the sidewalk and feeling overwhelming joy that I could now ride my bike on just two wheels! Of course this was no surprise to my father who knew what I was capable of doing better than I did. But this was more than just riding a bike. 

Through this test, my Christian dad was teaching me the biblical value of “fortitude” – having courage and an inner-strength to push through my self-doubts and accomplish what it is that my lack of confidence tells me that I cannot do. Since then, I’ve been tested and taught in the same way by my Heavenly Father too many times to count and if not for God’s peirasmos I would not be a pastor today. And yes, going through times of testing can be discomforting and even a little scary but God will also be running right alongside you and ready to catch you if you start to fall! “No testing (Gk: peirasmos) has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested/tempted beyond your strength, but with the testing/temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 

The Pope said that God does not lead us into times of temptation, but the thread that runs throughout the entire Old Testament, is God bringing (leading) His people to and through temptations, trials, tribulation, adversity and affliction in order to strengthen their faith and trust in Him. See Gen 22:1-2; Deut 8:2 God lifts His hand and Job enters into a time of tempting and testing where the devil was allowed to tempt Job into rejecting God. In the New Testament, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1 God never tempts us to do wrong James 1:13 but He does lead us into, or allow us to enter into, those times where we experience temptations/testing and where the ever-present opportunities to sin await us. 

Jesus told us to pray: lead us not into “peirasmos” and deliver us from evil. When we think of peirasmos in positive terms of what a loving Father does for His children, we then see that the point of this petition is not that testing in and of itself is bad but that we, being well aware of our own weakness and propensity to yield to the devil’s tempting sins, would prefer to not have to face the temptations at all.

My personal objection to the Pope changing this wording is that whether it’s called the “Our Father” or the “Lord’s Prayer,” it is the only prayer that is prayed by all Christian believers. It is our one true ecumenical prayer of the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant church. We have used different words (sins, debts, trespasses) but the meaning of each verse is the same and this prayer joins God’s churches together and unites us every Sunday morning. By the Catholic church changing not just the words but the actual meaning of what Jesus said, we are no longer all praying together in one accord. It's a step away, albeit a small step, but it's a step in the wrong direction for the church to take.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Are You Called To Be A Spiritual Mentor?


Dear Friends,

When we started the ministry at the assisted living home nearly four years ago, a woman came up to me and addressed me as “Father.” As an Evangelical Protestant pastor, I was uncomfortable with that title and asked her to call me “Pastor John.” She looked at me, hesitated a moment and said, “Okay Father.” I have long since given up trying to correct those who attend the church services and today the residents and staff call me “Father” or “Padre.” (Padre is from the Latin word “pater” and literally means “father priest.”) Most of the residents are one or two decades older than me and their own fathers have passed on many, many years ago. But as they now journey through this last season of life, they reach out to a spiritual father to hold their hand and help them through it. It was humbling and more than a little disconcerting when I realized that God had given me to them to fill that role. It seems like no matter where we are in our life, we need a father.

On a personal note, I had one of those significant birthdays last week that put a zero in my age. I am normally too engaged with the present to concern myself about the past, but for awhile, that pending birthday had brought me to a place of nostalgic remembrances of my life to date. Faces, names and episodes that had been buried in my memory and long forgotten about were now being vividly recalled. Then last Sunday was Father’s Day. Because I never fathered a child, I’ve been uncomfortable when people wished me a happy father’s day. As when people at church call me “Father,” it has always felt like an undeserved title. Was I really a father? Uhh..no..not really. 

But then a few days ago, God showed me something through this personal “documentary” of my life that had been the focus of my thoughts. He was showing me that from when I was a young man, I had been in the role of “spiritual father” to more than I could count. When I became a pastor, my mother told me that she was not surprised because I had spent so much of my life helping others by being their listener, counselor and mentor long before I was ordained. 

You don’t have to be ordained to be a spiritual mentor. I’ve known men who had been the spiritual father to many and have known women who were the spiritual mother to many. Some were also biological parents to children and some were not. But they were the “father” that their friends sought out for help when life got tough. They were the “mother” that a co-worker turned to for advice. They were the one who offered love, support, empathy, encouragement and sometimes loving correction. In this day when we are told that we must be strong and self-sufficient in all things and at all times, we will still sometimes need that spiritual father or spiritual mother to help and guide us through the circumstances of our lives Proverbs 19:20 and help us to build our faith and grow in the Lord.

I read about a Baptist pastor who had a friend that was an Episcopal priest. The Baptist envied his friend because those in his Episcopal church called him “Father” and saw him as their spiritual father. In the Baptist pastor’s church they called him by his first name and saw him as a casual friend. The Baptist pastor was struggling because he saw the need of many in his church for a “father” figure, but in most Protestant congregations, the pastor is just the one who has been hired to manage the church, lead the service and preach a sermon. A “spiritual father” was the roll of the priest for 1,500 years until the reformation when Protestants discarded nearly all aspects of church tradition. The Baptist pastor was wistfully longing for all male clergy to once again be called “Father” and to be the spiritual parent that the church so desperately needs today. For some, the word “father” brings a feeling of love, trust and security, but for others, that same word may elicit feelings of shame or fear. Pastors hear father stories of neglect, indifference, abuse and abandonment that some psychologists call the “father wound.” 

Psychology Today says “Fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children.” When we grow up with a father who abandoned or abused us, we will unconsciously seek a Godly father to fill that void in our life and heal that “father wound.” People come to church to seek God and to find healing and wholeness for their lives. In too many churches we attempt to accomplish that by using uninspiring lectures (sermons) that simply tell people how they should live their life. Sometimes that works, but contrast that with the ancient church where, through the grace of God, seekers found spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers who gave them wisdom, advice, empathy and encouragement and who took them by the hand to lead them to their Heavenly Father.

A caveat here. If we have an unresolved father wound, we cannot be a spiritual parent to others until we have been healed by God and made whole again. We tend to replicate our childhood family dynamic in any current relationship. For example, studies show that we are taught how to manifest our anger by our fathers. If our father expressed his anger under control, most likely we will too. If our father raged, threw and hit things, most likely we will too. For those of us who feel called to be a spiritual parent to others, our own soul wounds must be healed by God and fully understood by us in order to prevent us from passing on the hurts we suffered to those who we mentor. 

Are you called to be a spiritual father or a spiritual mother? The need is great. Your church is filled with those who need a spiritual parent. They need the love of Jesus radiating through you. May God guide you and give you wisdom.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Afraid of the Holy Spirit?


Dear Friends,

Our three most holy days are Easter, Christmas and the Day of Pentecost which was last Sunday. It was on the Feast of Pentecost in A.D. 33 that the Christian church was born. God ushered in His presence and His glory fell on his disciples with a mighty rushing wind. Now some of us have been taught that the Spirit of God fell upon only that exclusive and select group of Jesus’ twelve disciples. We believe that because that’s church tradition and because most of the religious art from the medieval period shows the flames descending on twelve men. But that’s not what the Word of God says in our Bible. Jesus promises His disciples that God will send to them the Holy Spirit who will live with them and within them forever. John 14:15-17 

Then in the first Chapter of Acts, we find that after Jesus ascended into Heaven, the disciples came down from Mt Olivet and returned to the upper room in Jerusalem where they stayed united in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the other women and the brothers of Jesus. There is no description of the house with the upper room, but we must assume that it was very large because we are told that about 120 people were staying there. Acts 1:12-15 They were awaiting the Jewish holy day, the Feast of Pentecost that was to come ten days after Jesus ascended into Heaven. 

So picture in your mind the twelve disciples and Mary and about 107 more women and men who had been the close followers of Jesus. And now, Luke tells us that all were gathered together on this Day of Pentecost. That’s when there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm that filled the house where they were sitting. And the tongues of fire settled on each of them. On each man. On each woman. On Mary the Mother of Jesus. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Spirit gave them this ability. Acts 2:1-4 We need to jettison from our mind the picture of the Holy Spirit falling solely on that exclusive group of the twelve disciples and replace it with our Biblical description of this monumental world-changing event.

And then all throughout the book of Acts, as it records the experiences of the early church, we read that Christian believers were filled with the Holy Spirit. But why then do so many Christian believers today become so uncomfortable with the reality of the Holy Spirit? I received an email from a pastor’s sermon resource website that acknowledged Pentecost Sunday and asked, “Was the Holy Spirit ever meant to be an easy subject to address? How do you preach such a controversial and volatile topic?” A Southern Baptist theologian wrote that in most churches, “The Holy Spirit is talked about, if at all, in hushed tones and with some anxiety.”

I honestly think that we are we are afraid of the power of the Holy Spirit! The New King James refers to the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a “rushing mighty wind” but another translation calls it a “violent wind.” And we are afraid of that violent wind blowing through our lives because we are fearful that God really will change us into the man or woman He wants us to be. We are afraid of being truly committed to Jesus. We are afraid of becoming passionate about God. We are afraid we may become that zealous believer we’ve always made fun of. We’re afraid of the Holy Spirit because we have become far too comfortable with our complacent spiritual calmness. If we are at the point in our apathetic Christian walk where the most disturbing thing at church was when Edna forgot the potato salad for the potluck barbecue, then we most certainly would not tolerate any life-changing violent winds blowing through our congregation! We will have nothing to disturb us, thank you very much! No surprises. No upsetting changes. There is something safe and reassuring about the grace of God and the love of our Lord Jesus, but that meddlesome Holy Spirit just cannot be trusted to leave well enough alone!

But who is this Person that we’re afraid of? The Holy Spirit is God. He is a Person. He is not an impersonal force or power. We refer to the Holy Spirit as an impersonal “it” but Jesus says, “You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:16-17 The New Testament tells us that the Holy Spirit speaks, comforts, convicts and can be grieved. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity 1 John 5:7 who was sent to us from God and through the Son but the Holy Spirit has existed from all time. John 14:26

The Spirit of God that fell upon Mary, and the twelve disciples and on all the men and women that were there on that Pentecost day is available to you as well. Peter tells us that when we repent and are baptized, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit Acts 2:38-39 but we need to activate that gift by accepting His presence in our life. If you’re feeling spiritually empty, you need to be as Paul said, “filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18 Jesus promises us an abundant life John 10:10 and Paul tells us that God is able to give us that abundance according to the amount of Holy Spirit power that we have in our life. Ephesians 3:20 But if we are afraid of the Holy Spirit and reject or limit His power, we’ve limited the abundance from God that He wants for us to have.

Don’t be satisfied with a comfortable non-threatening two-thirds of the Trinity in your life! We were created to live in the fullness of God and with a joyful abundance of life. For some of us, the first step towards a more abundant life is simply the desire to have the Holy Spirit fully operate in our lives. Raise your hands and your voice to Heaven and ask God to give you the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Allow His refreshing wind to blow through your spirit and be filled with Him. It’s what God has always wanted for you.  Amen?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Sign of the Cross

Orthodox Christian and #1 ranked Tennis Player, Novak Djokovic
Dear Friends,

Christians make me laugh. Most Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans think that the Charismatic way of worshiping with hands raised high in worship is emotionally excessive and looks absolutely ridiculous. The fact that Jesus, all His disciples and the early church worshiped and prayed with upraised hands does not sway them in their belief that this is a very inappropriate physical gesture for today. They don’t care if the early church worshiped that way. It just ain’t right.

Pentecostals, Charismatics, Baptists and Reformed think that making the “sign of the cross” is emotionally excessive and looks absolutely ridiculous. The fact that after the resurrection of Jesus, His followers made the sign of the cross on their body does not sway them in their belief that this is a very inappropriate physical gesture for today. They don’t care if the early Christians did it. It just ain’t right. 

So let’s talk about this one gesture that evokes so much contemptuous disdain from those who sit on the Evangelical and Pentecostal side of our ecumenical church pew. The ancient practice of making the sign of the cross † is made by touching the forehead, the center of the chest and from the right shoulder to the left shoulder. (One thousand years later, the Catholic Church changed it and began to touch the left shoulder first and then the right. No one knows why. The Orthodox Church still follows the ancient pattern of right to left and so do I.)

Shortly after the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection, His followers drew crosses as the symbol of their faith. Archeologists have found drawings of crosses with stick figures of Jesus on them. But most drawings from that period of time in Christian history are of “empty” crosses declaring to fellow Christians and others that Christ’s life did not end on the cross and He lives forever. In that early persecuted church, the sign of the cross was often used as a secret gesture from one Christian to another (that gesture is the same one used by priests and pastors when they make the sign of the cross over you at the end of the service). And, throughout time, Christians have been making this silent gesture to other Christians as a way of saying “God bless you.”

The most common Protestant objection I’ve heard to making the sign of the cross on one’s self is that it’s “too Catholic.” Is it really? Five hundred years before the sign of the cross was incorporated in the (Roman Catholic) church service, Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “Let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest.” The earliest Christians used the sign of the cross two centuries before the establishment of the Church at Rome so the only possible objection we could have is that it’s “too Christian.”

Later on, Christians used the name of the triune God to cross one’s self in the name of the “Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When we do so, we are not simply naming the One who we worship. We receive His power and blessing when we invoke the Name of God over ourselves and others. “In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.” Exodus 20:24 ESV

The mark of the cross is God’s “brand.” Old Testament shepherds branded or marked their sheep with a vegetable and mineral dye that would stain the wool and not wash off. Cowboys in the old west, and still today, brand horses and cattle with hot irons to mark the livestock as theirs. A mark or brand is a claim of ownership. 

When you were baptized, the mark of the cross was made upon your forehead. Like the branding of sheep to claim ownership, the baptismal mark of the cross branded you for God. That mark sealed the deal and claimed your spirit, soul and body for Jesus. When you were baptized, you were signed, sealed and delivered to God! 

When we make the sign of the cross on ourselves we trace our baptismal “brand” and acknowledge that we belong to Him. Marking ourselves with the cross of Jesus Christ should never be done casually or carelessly. It should be done slowly and reverently and with faith. Many times you will feel an inrush of His peace as you do so. Times when I’m stressed or just getting too intense about something, I’ll do nothing more than slowly make the sign of the cross and immediately feel the pressure of my life being replaced with the peace of God. Even if making the sign of the cross on yourself has not been your church’s tradition, you may wish to return to this ancient Christian practice during your prayer times, when you lie down and when you awaken.

The sign of the cross should not be used ritualistically. It’s not a spiritual magical charm that will protect you from all evil and make you rich, happy and thin! But we are stamped, sealed, branded and claimed for Jesus with the mark of the cross, and when we trace the cross on our body, we are saying to the One who paid the price and now owns us, “Here I am Lord. I am all Yours. Make me according to the desires of Thy heart.”

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Jesus Prayer


Dear Friends,

“Are you doing okay?” asked my dentist with some concern in his voice. “You’re very still.” We were in the middle of a very uncomfortable and lengthy root canal, but I was completely relaxed. My breathing had slowed as I sunk deeper in contemplative prayer and I was reciting the Jesus Prayer: LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME, A SINNER. I hate having work done on my teeth and my dentist is always kind enough to offer tranquilizers and sedation. But so far, all I’ve ever needed was Jesus.

The Jesus Prayer can take you into contemplative prayer and it can also fill the secular spaces in our life. When we’re out shopping. Doing laundry. Taking out the trash. Stopped at the light. In the doctor’s waiting room. That’s when our minds wander toward the trivial and these are the empty spaces in our day that we can fill with prayer. The Jesus Prayer redeems those moments and turns the secular into the sacred. 

The Jesus Prayer starts out in our mind with intentionality, and as it becomes the repetitive prayer of our heart, it comes to our thoughts spontaneously and without effort on our part. When the Jesus Prayer becomes embedded in our soul, we will find our thoughts praying it constantly and unconsciously as it becomes the background music of our life. I wake up in the night and in that hazy mental state, when my mind is not yet fully awake and I’m floating in a free-flowing stream of unconscious thoughts, I’ll find myself praying the Jesus Prayer. While we’re sleeping, the Holy Spirit is praying in us to Jesus and through Him to the Father. Even in sleep, our spirit connects with His Spirit. Prayer is our intrinsic desire. Our souls cannot develop without prayer. As our lungs must fill with air, our souls must fill with prayer.

The Jesus Prayer is avoided by some because of Jesus’ warning to not engage in repetitious prayers but a careful reading of Matthew 6:7 shows that we are to avoid “vain repetitions” – those that are meaningless and worthless. There is nothing more worthy than the name of Jesus and  from the 4th century, monastics have used a form of the Jesus Prayer throughout their day as a way to “pray without ceasing..” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Over 1,000 years later, the Roman Catholic Church would develop the “Hail Mary” prayer and the use of the rosary, but the Jesus Prayer has remained the practice of the Orthodox church for over 2,000 years. And now today, Protestants seeking a deeper connection with God have discovered this ancient tradition.

The Jesus Prayer is not a mantra or magic talisman. It is recited with fear (reverence) of God and with faith and love. Speaking the name of Jesus invites and instills His presence. Speaking forth the Holy Name, places the reality of God into our circumstances. Life happens. We get stressed. Thoughts can become unhealthy and can even be incapacitating. We worry. Obsess. Get angry or depressed. Praying the Jesus Prayer at those times will break the bondage of those thoughts and bring the peace of God.

Because I’m a geek for gadgets, I recently bought an inexpensive Pulse Oximeter that clips on your finger to give you a digital readout of your pulse and the amount of oxygen in your blood. One afternoon, I was stressed and very upset at something and could feel my heart beat harder and faster and my blood pressure rise. I clipped on the little device to see what my heart rate was and then, as I normally do when I get stressed, I started to pray the Jesus Prayer using it as a breath prayer. I watched my pulse rate slow down to lower than normal and I was soon relaxed and stress-free. When life happens and we become stressed, we can use alcohol or prescription drugs to self-sooth our soul. Or we can use the Jesus Prayer.

There are also times when I don’t know what to pray. When I need to pray but can’t and I don’t even know how to begin. I always start with the Jesus Prayer and soon the flow of spontaneous prayer comes pouring from my heart.

The Jesus Prayer is LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME, A SINNER. Matthew 16:16 and Luke 18:13 Some people eliminate the last two words. For awhile I did too until I realized I was avoiding this penitential phrase out of a prideful spirit. The Orthodox practice combines the Jesus Prayer with deep breathing. (while inhaling) Lord Jesus Christ, (exhaling) Son of God (inhaling) have mercy on me, (exhaling) a sinner. Even if you don’t normally use the Jesus Prayer as a breath prayer, I highly recommend it during a root canal.

In contemplative prayer, we find a place of silence, solitude and stillness. We can pray the Jesus Prayer continuously without ceasing “until God’s love has been poured into our heart.” Romans 5:5 Greek Orthodox monks use a woolen prayer cord called a “komvoschinion” that has 50 or 100 knots tied in it and they use it to pray the Jesus Prayer hundreds or thousands of times per day. You and I don’t live in a monastery or convent. We live in a very secular, stress-filled world. 

But we can use the Jesus Prayer throughout our day to stay connected with God in both the daily mundane and in the most stressful circumstances. It's difficult to describe, but the Jesus Prayer will allow you to stay focused, relaxed and energized at the same time. This prayer can bring a sense of meditative calmness even in the midst of chaos. We do not disassociate from conscious and discerning thoughts, but we invite the Presence of God into the center of those thoughts and into the ebb and flow of our life by invoking His name in all that we do.

“You have made us for Yourself,O God, 
and our heart is restless 
until it finds its rest in You.” 
Augustine of Hippo ~ 354 A.D.


[The above is a revised and expanded version from an earlier AMEN Corner]

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Is Contemplative Prayer Okay For Protestants?


Dear Friends,

Many churches today are teaching an ancient prayer practice that  fundamental and reformed churches call a new-age “DOCTRINE OF DEVILS.” Is it really? Contemplative Prayer grew out of the spiritual practices of the 2nd century Christian mystics who were seeking an experiential relationship with God. It became deeply embedded in monastic life and is still being practiced in the Orthodox and Catholic churches today much as it was in the first centuries by those seeking the presence of God in their lives. But the reformation ended the practice of Contemplative Prayer for all those who would become known as “Protestants.” Martin Luther was a disgruntled Catholic priest and monk whose (justifiable) anger at the church caused him to reject all spiritual practices he had learned during his 12 years in the monastery. Luther developed a religious life-style that excluded any experience of God beyond reading our Bibles. He taught that contemplative prayer must be “banished from your heart”. Luther’s Works: AE Vol 24:257 For Luther, the academic and lawyer, the study of scripture was far more important than prayer as a direct communication with God. “Meditation,” as Luther described it, was simply the continual study of scripture. This is not to pick apart the sincerely-held beliefs of Martin Luther but to simply explain why some of us reject what all Christians believed in and practiced for the first 1,600 years.

Even those of us non-Lutheran Protestants have been “Lutherized” and we banish spiritual disciplines practiced by the early church. And while much of church tradition (selling of indulgences) that got Luther so riled up is gone from our Protestant practices, we’ve replaced the experience of God in our lives with church attendance, Bible studies, Men’s and Women’s groups, social activism, “Christian politics” and if we pray at all, we simply recite the requests we have on God’s “to-do” list that we created for Him. I have known those who were the most diligent, Bible-quoting, church-going Christians you could ever hope to meet. But their spirit was shriveled and starving. Their mind overflowed with God’s Word but their soul was empty. They were filled with our Protestant way of doing church but they had never known the presence of God. 

For us Protestants who are still uncomfortable with contemplation because it sounds a little too “Catholic,” please remember Jesus. When the Son needed to communicate with His Father, Jesus never ran to the Temple or the nearest Synagogue to read and study the scriptures. Jesus went off by Himself. To the mountain top. To the silence. The solitude. Jesus met His Father in the stillness. “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” Luke 5:15 (see also: Luke 6:12; Matt 14:23; Mark 1:35) So is meditative prayer really an appropriate way for us Protestants to pray? It is if you want to pray like Jesus...

Fundamental and Reformed churches still denounce Contemplative Prayer as demonic, but the spiritual tide is changing and most Protestant churches have turned to Orthodox/Catholic spirituality and mysticism in an effort to recover the spiritual disciplines practiced in the ancient church. Even today’s nationally-known Evangelical Protest-ant pastors have endorsed it. (Rick Warren, Tim Keller Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, John Piper, and Max Lucado) One of our Nation’s most respected, conservative theologians, the late Dallas Willard, wrote a book titled, HEARING GOD: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God. If you are interested Contemplative Prayer, this is one book that will take you much deeper.

Contemplative or Meditative Prayer has been described as the opening of mind and heart – our whole being – to God. It is stilling your thoughts and emotions and focusing on God Himself. It is accepting God’s invitation to come into His presence, so that you are better able to hear His voice loving, encouraging, correcting, guiding and directing you. Focused attention on God alone is a meditative practice. Scripture is designed for meditation and our Bible is filled with exhortations to meditate. See Philippians 4:8 as an example. At the heart of meditative prayer is silence, solitude and stillness. We start by finding a quiet sacred space in our home (silence) where we can be by ourselves (solitude) so that we can just sit-a-spell (stillness). 

No one can possibly accuse Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren of teaching heresy or “new age” biblically unsound practices. Warren has said that “God wants us to connect with Him on a moment-to-moment basis.” He said we should “use ‘breath prayers’ throughout our day as many Christians have done for centuries.”

Contemplative Prayer starts with deep breaths to relax. Breathing in on the count of five. Exhaling on the count of five. Breathe through your nose and relax. You should feel your stomach move as your breath fully inflates your lungs and presses down on your diaphragm. In THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE, Rick Warren says to “choose a brief scripture or simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath.”  Repeat the word or phrase. After several minutes of focused breathing and repeating the phrase, we find that any anxiety or stress is gone. We have almost effortlessly transcended into a contemplative state beyond words, emotions, images or forms. Thoughts slow down and the sense of our separateness from God disappears. We come into a unitive experience with Him. We’ve not abandoned our discerning thoughts nor taken leave of our senses. But our mind is clear of the clutter. In the silence, the solitude, the stillness, we come into the presence of our Heavenly Father.    To Be Continued...

Revised and expanded from an earlier AMEN Corner

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Is There Really Free Will?

The Maze of Theology
Dear Friends,

After last week’s AMEN Corner on the sovereignty and providence of God, a reader told me that it left her more confused then ever. That’s understandable. Even the church is confused. There has been a dispute about the sovereignty of God versus the will of man ever since the Reformation five hundred years ago. God's sovereignty refers to the power that God has over His creation. Providence refers to God using the power of His sovereignty to control all things in the world. “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they will fall.” Proverbs 16:33 NLT One of the things that we like to say in Evangelical Christianity is that God is in control. But is He really? How about our own will? Can we override God? And if we can exert our will to override God then who really is in control? This doctrine of free will is not an insignificant matter in the church, and Christians have gone to battle and killed each other over this doctrine.

Let’s go into this theological maze to see what we can find. Martin Luther began the Reformation with a denial of free will that was fundamental to his doctrine of justification by faith alone. In his book “On the Bondage of the Will,” Luther adamantly argued against the concept of free will. Luther said, “I condemn and reject as nothing but error all doctrine which exalts our free will.” John Calvin agreed with Luther and taught the monergistic concept of providence meaning that God is the single active cause of all activity in the world. Many churches believe that today, but the difficulty with an absolute concept of divine providence is that if everything that occurs is a direct action from God then that makes God responsible for both good and evil. Meaning that God causes cancer, earthquakes in California, tsunamis in Japan and planes to fly into New York buildings. God recently caused the mother to torture, kill and dismember her three year old daughter and He was behind the bombs that killed 258 people and injured over 500 in Sri Lanka during Easter morning services. According to Calvin’s reformed theology, the evil that God wills is the necessary dark side of a greater good and all things are worked out according to Romans 8:28. But if I was a Christian who had just lost my spouse and children to a drunk driver and I was told by someone in the Presbyterian, Reformed or United Church of Christ (Calvinistic) churches that it was the will of God, I’d become an instant atheist. 

While those first Protestants were wrestling with Luther’s and Calvin's denial of free will, here comes a reformed Dutch theologian, Jacobus Arminius who ascribed to the historic, classic and Apostolic doctrine of free will that had been taught by the church for the 1,500 years leading up to the reformation. Arminius said about Luther’s and Calvin’s teachings that “It is not in the character of God to plan and carry out evil.” Arminius said that evil arises out of the corrupt intentions of fallen human hearts and not from God's perfectly loving and benevolent will. Arminius believed in the providence of God and believed that He does not cause sin, evil, and tragedy but does permit them for the sake of our freedom of will. This is an action of self-control on God's part. He is sovereign and has full power but chooses to allow us to have free will and make choices. You and I can choose to do evil, and when we do, those sinful choices incur God's powerful wrath and His judgement.

When I was growing up in the Episcopal church, the trend was to speak only about moral topics from the pulpit – typically on the social justice issues of the time. So I began to study Calvinist theologians because they were the only ones writing theological books. But I couldn't accept that God creates both good and evil and tried to talk about this with the pastor at a large Calvinist Baptist church when I was in my mid-20's. He told it wasn't my place to understand God and to not think about it any longer. All righty then..Thanks Rev! But my problem was that I couldn't stop thinking about it and while it was not a barrier between me and God, it did keep me out of church for a long time. 

Many years later, the Holy Spirit seized me and I recommitted my full life to Him despite the free will issue remaining unresolved in my mind. It was not until I went to Bible College and learned about Arminianism that it all fell into place. I remember when I first heard that explanation of God's sovereignty operating synergistically with man's freewill and feeling a rush of peace and understanding. Finally I was hearing a doctrine that perfectly dovetailed with a loving God and coincided with everything that I had read in the New Testament. Today, I say it like this:“We walk through our Journey in life in partnership with God. In all things, we can’t do it without Him, and He won’t do it without us.” 

A few years ago two Muslim brothers detonated bombs during the Boston Marathon and Joel Osteen was asked on a news program what he would say to the victims. I don’t always agree with Osteen but I appreciated his thoughtful response from the Arminian perspective. He said, “I would tell them that God has us all in the palm of His hand.” He said, “There are many things we don't understand, but God has given us our own free will and people choose to do evil things. When people put their faith in God, however, He’ll give you a peace and grace for every season.”

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Note: If you would like a more detailed and scholarly treatise on Calvinism and Arminianism, I invite you to read theologian and professor Roger E. Olson who has made it his life's work to explain these doctrines, You can read him HERE
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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