Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Earthquakes and Fires

Dear Friends,

At 4:30 am on January 17,1994, it felt like a huge giant beneath our house was slamming his fist against the floor. We were being tossed up out of bed towards the ceiling! When the Northridge Earthquake stopped, we found our house almost literally turned upside down. The only pieces of furniture left upright were the beds and the living room piano that had been against the wall but was now eight feet away and in the middle of the room. Months later we were attending a new church and making friends with the worship leader and his wife. When she found out how much damage our house had, she told us that their house had no damage because they pray for God’s protection and then she quoted Proverbs 3:33 “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked but He blesses the dwelling of the righteous.” Okay..Thanks Patty! Now I understand why we had so much damage! (We never became close friends..)

She was a fervent Pentecostal who believed and taught in their home Bible study what is known as “Positive Confession Theology” that some call “name it and claim it.” She had commanded God to place a legion of angels around her home and proudly told us that was why they had sustained no serious earthquake damage. Maybe she was correct and she and her husband were the righteous ones while my wife and I were the wicked ones. Or maybe she and her husband lived about 40 miles from Northridge while we lived in Sylmar and almost directly on top of the shallow end of the Earthquake fault that broke. The closer to the surface, the more violent the shaking and the strongest vertical forces in the Valley were measured right across the street from us. That’s the “natural” explanation but the “supernatural” explanation is that God does not play favorites. Romans 2:11“He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45 And I was again reminded yesterday that not only the rains but also the fires of nature can sweep away the homes of the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Homes of the most devout Christians are destroyed in the Santa Ana-fed fiery holocausts along with the homes of the most wicked of sinners. 

Last Thursday night, the Saddleridge Fire started just over a mile West of my house. Heavy Santa Ana winds were blowing toward the West. If they had been blowing East, our neighborhood, right across the street from the hills on fire, would have been quickly engulfed in the flames. At one point, the burning embers were traveling over a mile in the winds and igniting spot fires. In just three hours the fire had exploded to 4,700 acres, the fire was now miles away with many homes lost and the fire resources were deployed to the housing developments in the northern part of the valley. With a minimum of firefighters left in Sylmar, the East Side of the fire in the hills was steadily burning unchecked all night long and directly toward us. By morning, it was right across the street. 

My neighbor and I remembered well the 2008 Sayre Fire that burned houses on each side of us in these same foothills. We knew that when the fire burned past us, the now South blowing winds would blast the embers directly toward our houses and onto our properties. The winds had filled our one acre properties with dried leaves and it takes only one ember to burn down a house. My three 100 foot hoses were stretched out and ready to go. We watched and waited. Then thanks be to God, at 8:35 am, two DC-10 air tankers, each carrying 12,000 gallons of fire retardant, showed up.

Taken from my backyard. 10/11/19 @ 8:35 am
As they dropped their load on the Eastern flank of the fire directly across the street from us, my neighbor and I both stood there praising and thanking God. We watched the blazing fire race up to the retardant and smolder to a stop. It was done and over for us. I unpacked things like the files, computer and guitar from the car while Rhianna put away the cat carriers. But it’s hard to celebrate your blessings when you know that 35 families lost their homes, pets and possessions. Many more had homes partially destroyed in the fires. Where were their DC-10's... 

We thank God for His grace as we pray for those who suffered. And when we are suffering, we can only hope that those who received His grace will remember to pray for us. Life happens to all of us. “The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious. Good people receive the same treatment as sinners, and people who make promises to God are treated like people who don’t.” Ecclesiastes 9:2 NLT It can be easy for us Christians to become spiritually prideful and feel “special” and entitled to God’s favor. I’m sorry to say that the religious arrogance of the worship leader’s wife is not uncommon among us good, church-goin’ Christians. But the truth is that “The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time. Ecclesiastes 9:11 NLT 

I sit down at my desk the morning after the fire to write this AMEN Corner. My cat Cody is curled up between the keyboard and the monitor and he’s purring in his sleep. I’m surrounded by my treasured books and the material things that God has gifted me with over my lifetime. I have these things because I live a mile or so East of the fire’s point of origin. If I lived a mile West, I could very well be homeless today. I was not living in the “right place at the right time” during the Northridge Earthquake but I was last Thursday night. God did not send a DC-10 loaded with fire retardant to stop the fire across the street because I’ve always been His favorite. Both the hellish flames and the retardant that quenches the fire, fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. God loves my neighbors and me no more and no less than those who lost their homes and are today grieving one of life’s worst personal tragedies. That’s why we can’t ever thank Him for what He has given us without praying for the needs others.
Heavenly Father, You are the compassionate Lord who loves each one of Your children. We pray for those who have been devastated by these wildfires and hold in our hearts the families forever changed by grief and loss. Bring them consolation and comfort. Help them heal from the anxiety and fears they experienced that night. Surround them with Your strength and peace as You heal their memories of this trauma and devastation. May the Holy Spirit be with them and give them the courage to face the long road of rebuilding not just their homes but their broken lives.
We ask Your blessing on the firefighters and emergency personnel who put their own life on the line to help others, and pray that they would be surrounded with Your protection. May their work be guided by the grace and strength that comes from You alone. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and Holy Spirit both now and ever. AMEN.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Church Rules!

Dear Friends,

Outrageous! murmured the church leader as he nudged the man standing beside him and pointed to the renegade Jesus Christ. There He goes again! Who does He think He is? Healing on the Sabbath! Totally against church rules! Not only a clear violation of God’s law, but a detestable offense to all those who love God! And our Bible goes on to tell us that to make things worse, this maverick Messiah even did the healing in church! Right there in the synagogue! Before God and everybody! Luke 6:6-11 Oy vey!

The Pharisees in the synagogue were filled with rage and can you blame them? If we didn’t have church rules we’d have anarchy and lawlessness in our churches. It would be a total disaster! Thank God for the Pharisees who keep God’s house proper and orderly! The Pharisees were the religious leaders who controlled and appointed priests, set temple laws, wrote the liturgy and the rituals. They followed a combination of God’s written law in the scriptures along with the “oral tradition” that they had added. These church leaders gave the oral laws the same authority as God’s written laws. Jesus had a problem with that. Because that’s the sin of legalism. 

I was told many decades ago that “Every Christian has a little bit of Pharisee in them” and while you may object to that generalization, it’s been true of every Christian I have ever known and it is most definitely true of the man I see in my bathroom mirror. It’s also true of all churches and denominations who make up their own laws based on their distinctive church traditions and give them the same weight as the word of God. We Protestants shake our heads at all the unbiblical oral laws, rituals and traditions in the Catholic Church and then we make up our own unbiblical Protestant laws, rituals and traditions. 

I’ve been associated with a conservative church in which there was a great deal of discussion about renting the property for weddings because during the receptions, unmarried Christians were dancing on the property! (we all knew what dancing can lead to!) I’ve been associated with a liberal mainline church who did not permit a person who had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior to be baptized in their church unless the person was approved by a vote of their membership committee. (John the Baptist did defer to the membership committee before those Jordan river baptisms, didn’t he?) 

A simple definition of legalism is when things that are okay with God, aren’t okay with us. That’s not to say that we can’t create our own rules, rituals and traditions, but when we enforce them as if they were a commandment from God, that’s when it becomes the sin of legalism. And yes. Jesus does have a problem with that.

A 2013 survey by the Barna Group revealed that 51% of Christians in American exhibited attitudes and actions that are more like the Pharisees than they are like Christ. Their attitudes were self-righteous and hypocritical. Sadly, only 14% of all Christians surveyed reflected attitudes and actions that better resembled the attitudes and actions of Christ. The most Christ-like Christians in attitude and behavior were Evangelicals (23%) while only 13%-14% of Catholics, mainline denomination Christians and “notional” (meaning in name only) Christians were Christ-like in their attitude and behavior. Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the attitudes and behaviors of that person in our mirror... 

How do we know if we are more like a Pharisee than we are like Jesus? The more religious you become, the more critical you are of other people. We spend much time talking about what we are against and believe that it is our personal responsibility to take a stand against those who do not follow our own Christian beliefs and values. We focus on pointing out why others are wrong in their church doctrine or traditions. We prefer to be only with like-minded Christians. We make our salvation based on our following “rules and traditions” and not on our faith that comes solely from the grace of God. We believe that outsiders must conform to our distinctive Christian lifestyle before we can accept them in our church. 

A middle-age single woman tells me that she’s been an “outlier” in every church she’s attended because our unspoken rule is that marriage and family is the highly-valued Christian norm and singles just don’t conform to the idyllic church lifestyle. Our “membership committees” admit or deny entrance to our church clubhouse based on whether or not they look, sound, act and smell like us. But thank God that, “The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

To be more in attitude and action like Jesus we would need to listen to others before we tell them about our faith. We’d need to hang out with unbelievers and those struggling with their faith. We’d need to see that God loves every person no matter what their past looked like and He invites all to accept Jesus as their Savior. We’d need to let others know that God loves them. Instead of telling them how they must change to conform to our church expectations, we need to just love them like Jesus and let God do the hands-on work of changing them. We’d need to help and serve others outside the church. Matthew 25:31-46 needs to be how we live out our faith. Jesus never handed out a legalistic “to-do” list of what must be accomplished in order to achieve righteousness. He just showed them the grace, mercy and love of God. Lord, may we simply do the same. Amen?

Republished From An Earlier AMEN Corner

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Evangelicals - An Inconvenient Truth

Dear Friends,

It has become an “accepted” narrative among the mainstream media in our Country that Evangelical Christians are the enemy of our Nation. We see that in interviews, commentaries and discussions across the TV news networks and the internet “news.” A recent article in the left-leaning Atlantic acknowledged that Evangelical Christians “have been mocked, scorned, and dishonored by the elite culture over the years.” An editorial in the L.A. Times characterized all Evangelicals as “racist.” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough lamented the “degradation of evangelical Christianity” because about  seven-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (69%) say they approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president. That same poll* showed that 52% of the most liberal church in America (ELCA) also approves of Trump, but that unmentionable fact gets set aside because it does not fit the accepted narrative. According to the media, the good guys belong to the National Council of Churches which is an organization of the mainline and left-leaning Protestant churches and the bad guys belong to the National Association of Evangelicals which are the conservative and right-leaning Protestant churches. Evangelical Christians are characterized as being intolerant, supporting white supremacy, hate gays and lesbians, are “warmongers” and hate immigrants. By the way we are portrayed in the media, it is no wonder that so many in our younger generations are now anti-Christian. So let’s now shed some light on an inconvenient truth. The following is the statement on “Social Justice” from the conservative National Association of Evangelicals:

Jesus summed up God’s law by commanding us to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Matthew 22:35-40 By deed and parable, Jesus taught that anyone in need is our neighbor. Luke 10:29-37 God created all people in his image. The inherent dignity that rich and poor alike possess leads us to share our resources with one another - particularly with those in need. God identifies with the poor and says that those who “are kind to the poor lend to the Lord” while those who oppress the poor “show contempt for their Maker.” Psalm 146:5-9; Proverbs 19:17; Proverbs 14:31 Jesus said that those who do not care for the needy and the imprisoned demonstrate by such lack of action that they are not his followers. Matthew 25:31-46 The vulnerable include not only the poor, but those with less power, such as women, children, the aged, persons with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, minorities, the persecuted, prisoners and victims of human trafficking. Moreover, God measures societies by how they treat the vulnerable and powerless. His prophets call his people to create just and righteous societies. Isaiah 10:1-4; Isaiah 58:3-12; Jeremiah 5:26-29; Jeremiah 22:13-19; Amos 2:6-7; Amos 4:1-3; Amos 5:10-15 The prophetic teaching insists on both a fair legal system, which does not favor either the rich or the poor, and a fair economic system, which does not tolerate perpetual poverty. It also forbids usury and predatory lending that harms the poor. Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Ezekiel 18:7-9 Economic justice includes the mitigation of suffering, the promotion of equality of opportunity and the restoration of wholeness. The Bible condemns gross disparities in opportunity and outcome that cause suffering and perpetuate poverty. God wants people to have access to productive resources, so they can care for their economic needs and contribute to their community. For example, children need a high-quality education in order to fully develop their God-given talents. Access to proper nutrition, shelter and health care are also important ingredients in helping people transcend poverty. Our social safety net must aim to provide opportunity and restore people to self-sufficiency. Adequate funding for food, shelter and health care should be maintained so that those who cannot care for their families and themselves receive the support they need. We urge Christians who work in the political realm to shape wise laws pertaining to the creation of wealth, wages, education, taxation, immigration, consumer protection and health care that will protect those trapped in poverty and empower them to improve their circumstances. Since family systems are also important for nurturing healthy individuals and overcoming poverty, public policy should support families and marriages. Governments should hold parents responsible for the maintenance of their families, enforcing the collection of child-support payments, and should protect family members from physical and sexual abuse. Immigration policies should prioritize family unity and avoid separating families by deportation or detention. Criminal justice reform should consider how over- incarceration breaks up families. We further believe that care for the vulnerable should extend beyond our national borders. American diplomacy and trade policies impact the poor. We urge our leaders to negotiate trade agreements that broadly benefit those of modest means while protecting human rights and the environment. We also believe effective aid and other initiatives for the reduction of global poverty should be a central concern of American foreign policy. We support strategies that encourage honesty in government, correct unfair socioeconomic structures, empower the poor, promote local entrepreneurship and grassroots economic development, protect refugees, and welcome immigrants. Government should continue to partner with effective international aid agencies, including those that are faith based. In many parts of the world, extreme poverty, disease, famine, environmental degradation, persecution, civil war, and weak or corrupt government create the conditions in which large populations become vulnerable. We support Christian agencies and government policies that promote healthy communities and just, democratic structures. 

Evangelical Christians are often attacked by both those in mainline liberal churches and those in the media for a lack of commitment to the economically disadvantaged and the vulnerable in our society. But the “inconvenient truth” is that the above social justice statement from our Nation’s conservative churches sounds like it’s from the liberal church! That’s because it’s simply what all Christians should believe. It is because of statements such as this one on social justice that New Hope Family Church and New Hope Ministries have always been a member of the National Association of Evangelicals. 

* Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), which surveys over 64,000 Americans every two years

You are if you believe in...

1) The reality of the Trinity. 

2) The deity of Jesus Christ. 

3) The virgin birth. 

4) His sinless life and in His miracles. 

5) The bodily resurrection of Jesus. 

6) The infallibility and authority of the Bible for all matters of faith and religious practice. 

7) The fallenness of all humanity. 

8) Salvation provided by Jesus through His suffering, death and resurrection. 

9) The necessity of personal repentance and acceptance of Jesus. 

10) The importance of a devotional life and growth in holiness and discipleship. 

11) The urgency of evangelism and social transformation. 

12) The return of Jesus Christ to judge the world and establish the final, full rule and reign of God. 

If you can say “YES and AMEN” to these twelve timeless, apostolic, classic and historic Biblical teachings, no matter what church you attend, you are Evangelical.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Are You A Sapiosexual?

Dear Friends,

I was reading last week that some schools are teaching their youngest students that there are no longer two genders (male/female); there are now 100 genders. And for those confused or simply wanting to spice up their life, you can be “gender and sexually fluid” meaning that some days you’re the macho man and the next day you’re singing the Helen Reddy song, “I Am Woman.” Back in the good old days, a couple of decades ago, there were two sexualities, heterosexual and homosexual, but today there are many politically-correct terms we can use to describe our sexuality and you can imagine my shock when I found that I am no longer considered to be a “heterosexual” (someone who is primarily physically attracted to a person of the opposite sex). So, I’ve decided to take a major step and make a bold confession to all my friends who are readers of the AMEN Corner. At this point in my life, I’m just too old to care about what people think of me. It’s time for me to come out of the closet and admit to you that I have been a life-long Sapiosexual.

A Sapiosexual is someone that is attracted to the other person’s intelligence more so than their physical attractiveness. Hey..I’m a guy.. so of course I appreciate a woman’s beauty but it’s in the category of “nice but not necessary.” What is most important for me is that she’s smart and someone I can talk to and banter and joke with. Someone who is articulate, both verbally and in writing (meaning they can communicate with actual correctly-spelled words instead of a string of emojis.) Someone who can beat me at Scrabble. Someone who would prefer to read a book than watch “Dancing With The Stars.” Psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez says that “If two people are intellectual equals, their longivity is much more likely, and their interest in each other more likely to remain strong.” For those of us “Sapiosexuals,” communication and connection are the most important elements in both romantic relationships and friendships. But really... Aren’t those the two elements that form the intellectually and emotionally intimate relationships that we all intrinsically crave?

Jesus said to love your neighbor and then He goes on to show us how to do that. Everyone He came into contact with, He came into relationship with. That’s the first step in loving our neighbor and yet we can find it difficult for us to do that even in church. Last week I had breakfast with a pastor friend of mine and we were talking about how to encourage deeper and more meaningful relationships among the people that we have been called to pastor. Too many connect only superficially after the service as we comment on the sermon and catch up on what the grandchildren and our painful bunions are doing. We crave deeper, more meaningful friendships but we just don’t know how to get there. Let’s look at some suggestions.

Parents become rightly concerned about the relationships their children have, knowing the power of “peer influence” on those still young and easily molded. But as adults we also continue to be influenced by those in our own tribe of friends. We are warned to avoid the bad friends that will corrupt our own good character 1 Cor 15:33 and those flaky and unreliable friends. Proverbs 18:24 NIV We can be easily ensnared by the bad habits of others Proverbs 22:24-25 and that’s why we need to be honest about our friendships. If your good habits are influencing and changing their bad habits, praise God. If their bad habits are influencing and changing your good habits, then set that relationship aside and choose wise friends who will influence your character for the good and encourage you to be a better person. Proverbs 13:20 NLT

Chief Ten Bears (Will Sampson) cuts the palm of his hand with his hunting knife and holds up the hand. Clint Eastwood as the “Outlaw Josie Wales” does the same and as they join hands, Ten Bears nods and says, “So will it be.” They have become blood brothers. Some Native American and African tribes still do this today as a solemn ceremony between two men that symbolically combines their blood to create an unbreakable bond. 

While you might want to leave the hunting knife in its sheath when you're at church, we can create that same covenant “blood brother” bond through communication and connection. We need to be kind, thoughtful, honest, encouraging and perhaps most of all, be other-centered. Hint: If you want a better friendship with someone, and all you know about them are the shallow things that float on the surface of their life, you may need to do less talking and more listening. I talked to a church friend every Sunday for five years and then she told me that her parents had been murdered when she was 38 years old. That was a devastating, life-changing event in her life and for five years during our shallow “church” conversations, I had done too much talking and not enough listening to hear the unspoken pain in her broken heart and be the safe person she could share her story with. And yes, I’m embarrassed to tell you that I was also her pastor. 

Our covenant friends who love us enough to listen through, and over, and under our words, are the intimate friends who truly care about us. My definition of a covenant friend is one who has unconditional (agape) love and is committed to the other person’s personal and spiritual growth. A covenant friendship starts with deep communication that develops into connection. Those are the friends who are close by our side in the good times and the bad. When Job lost everything, his three friends came running to offer him their sympathy and comfort. Job 2:11 Those are covenant friends – the “blood brothers” – that we can count on. The ones who know that they can count on us.  Amen?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Are You A Worshiper?

Dear Friends,

She sits quietly, listening to the relaxing smooth sounds of her favorite worship music. Eyes closed, head nodding in time with the rhythm, a sweet smile on her face. The resplendence of the music is bringing warm, pleasant thoughts and feelings of love for her Holy Father and she weeps. She is feeling connected with God. The music has taken her into the holy of holies. She sits reverently in the Presence of God. But is she really worshiping Him?

The pastor stands on the stage partially hidden by the drum-set as he scans the mega-congregation during the opening songs. His praise and worship band just released their third album and every Sunday the church is packed with a young and excited crowd. Only a few of them are singing. All are drawn to the charismatic lead singer and the band’s rock sound – the guitar riffs and the drum solos. They love the music! It’s like going to a Christian concert every Sunday! Is this church worshiping?

At the cathedral-sized church, the congregation reverently listens as the 100 member choir flawlessly sings sacred music from the 12th century. In church jargon these are known as “performance choirs.” The music is ethereal, elegant and exquisite. Is this church worshiping?

A mainline congregation opens their service by singing two “contemporary” praise songs from the 70's. Some people are quietly singing while others are greeting each other and talking. A woman turns to the back of the bulletin to find something to read. Some of the older people are shifting restlessly in the pews – they only sing the hymns. Some younger people are playing video games on their phone. Is this church worshiping?

We can self-define worship to be whatever we want it to be, but if we are relying on our Bible to define authentic worship and allow scripture to provide the framework for a worship service, then the answer to the above scenarios may surprise you.

It might help to separate what is worshipful from what is Biblical worship. “WORSHIPFUL” is a feeling of reverence and adoration. Listening to worship music may engage your senses and take you into a worshipful place in your spirit. So may reading scripture, burning incense, lighting candles, walking into an old California Mission or seeing a spectacular sunrise. Biblical “WORSHIP” is something entirely different. In the Bible, worship is always participative. It is never passive. It’s not a performance or a programming element in a church service. It’s not singing a couple of songs to warm people up for the service that follows. Worship is not seeking a feeling or experience but is expressive, authentic, heart-felt worship directed to God that will take you into His presence.

In the Bible, “worship” is always an action verb. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “Shachah” translated as “worship” is used over one hundred times. In the New Testament, the Greek word “Proskuneo” translated as “worship” is used fifty-nine times. Both words mean the same thing: to bow down, kneel or prostrate oneself before a Superior Being while verbally expressing our reverence to Him. To engage in biblical worship, you must actually be doing something. Remember, by definition, worship is always participative. Read the four scenarios again and ask yourself, “Is this person/church worshiping?”

Worship is not our good thoughts, warm feelings or groovin’ to a guitar riff. Worship is using our voice and our posture to express the worthiness of our triune God. “Make a joyful shout to the Lord..Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise!” Psalm 100 is not an instruction to the priests but to the people. Singing out loud, verbally praising Him, bowing, kneeling, shouting, standing with hands raised – that’s worship! And when we worship, the glory of the Lord will fill the house of God! 2 Chronicles 5:12-14

Worship is using our voice 
and our posture to express 
the worthiness of our triune God.

Some traditions teach that proper worship can only take place in a clergy-led church service with other believers. So we hire worship leaders, choir directors, priests, pastors and praise bands and then sit back to enjoy the service. In doing so, we have, in essence, “out-sourced” our worship which was never God’s plan for you. God created you for worship. “This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise.” Isaiah 43:21 You were created to worship God and praise Him in church, out of church, in your home, your car, your backyard and walking on the beach.

What happens when we praise God and worship Him? St. Bernard wrote that “through desire we already possess the object of our longing.” How much this rings true for us when we express our heart’s desire for the Lord in our worship. We long for Him and reach out and touch Him as we speak forth His worthiness to Him. And in that moment of intimate worship, as we possess the gift of His love, He reaches out and possesses us. We are owned by Him. We belong to Him. We are His.  Amen?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Wacky Religious Beliefs

Dear Friends

“There is no God,” said Ron L. Hubbard, the science fiction writer and inventor of the “religion” called Scientology. Scientologists believe that you and I are all immortal extraterrestrial creatures called Thetans. Lord Xenu is the creator of the “Galactic Confederacy” and Xenu rules and reigns today over a galaxy which includes our planet earth. Scientology teaches that 75 million years ago, Xenu brought billions of aliens to Earth in spacecrafts resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners. He stacked the people around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The life force “thetans” then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today. Your goal is to become “clear” by  isolating your body thetans, neutralizing the negative thetans and accentuating the positive ones. Ron L. Hubbard is quoted as saying, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” (No thanks, Ron... I can see that creating a comic-book religion called Scientology worked out well for you but I’ll stick with my Bible!) 

Democratic Presidential Candidate and New Age teacher, Marianne Williamson, recently posted a tweet saying that we needed use our collective consciousness to harness “the power of the mind” and use “visualization” to turn the direction of Hurricane Dorian away from land and back out to sea. (If elected, perhaps she could achieve world peace by appointing Shirley MacLaine as Secretary of State!)

The Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan is one of America’s most prestigious universities for fashion design. A few years ago when New Age guru and actress Shirley MacLaine gave a commencement address, she urged the graduates to focus on their “psychoactive energy centers.” She then warned the future fashion designers to not design clothing that would be too tight or restrictive and explained, “When the clothing is loose, the skin begins to become loose, and the soul has more room to roam around.” She said, “The looser the skin, the wiser you will become.” (I’d never before seen a correlation between the tightness of clothing and one’s mental acuity and wondered if Shirley MacLaine’s next new-age, best-seller would be entitled, “Your Mind Ain’t Right When Your Underwear’s Tight”)

Another eccentric and misguided celebrity is actress Drew Barrymore who described her special morning wake-up routine. She said, “I try to stay in bed for ten minutes to get my surroundings going. I ponder my place in the universe. Then I wash my face and tune into my psyche. I check my karma and get my balance for the day. Then I go out into the universe with a positive attitude and a strong shield of love.” (And you thought that all you needed was a strong cup of coffee!)

At my former job, a co-worker (also a high-level manager and division head) asked me one day what I “did for fun on the weekends.” I told him that I was a pastor and my church ministry was what I did for personal fulfillment. His face lit up and he told me that we had something in common! He proudly told me he was an ordained priest in a religion called Eckankar and, with the assistance of spirit guides, he teaches people how to astral travel. Astral travel is when you have an out-of-body experience where you go into a trance-like state and your soul leaves your body to travel to a different point in time or place. He told me that anyone can astral travel, but first we need to discard our “karmic debt” in order to free our soul. (Just think of the frequent flier miles this guy has!) 

These may seem like extreme examples of wacky religions, but as people have become more open to exploring non-biblical spirituality, our pluralistic society has found new-age, wiccian and occultic beliefs to be as acceptable as Christianity. Jesus calls us to take the Gospel to all people, but how do we communicate with those whose beliefs are so very different from ours? 

First, know that Christ died for all people so that those who believe in Him will have eternal life. John 3:16 Second, realize that everyone intrinsically recognizes the need for God in their life. Romans 1:19-20 (NLT) We will fill that “God-shaped” void with the genuine Creator or a creative counterfeit. People innately long for the real thing, but Satan slips some of them a substitute and blinds their eyes to the truth. 2 Cor 4:3-4 (NLT) Third, before you can communicate with them you need to connect with them. We need to build a relational bridge to a person before we can rescue them from spiritual danger. Col 4:5-6 (NLT) Fourth, once that connection is established, show them how God loves His children and give them the reason for your faith. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT) When you show God’s love in a manner that compels them to seek what you have, you can often break through the most deeply embedded doctrine and allow God’s seeds to be planted. And Fifth, know that the battle for their soul is spiritual. Ephesians 6:12 The hard truth is that sometimes the Holy Spirit wins and sometimes the devil wins. Some will embrace the reality of God and others will reject Him. Our job is to just plant the seeds of the Gospel message, and then step back and let God do the rest. 1 Cor 3:7  Amen?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Living By The Cowboy Code?

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago I saw a couple of young boys at the Ventura Harbor walking with their parents. Not sure how old the kids were but probably about the same age I was in the photo. One of them had a cell phone on a cord around his neck. His brother, a year or so older, had both a cell phone and a flash drive on cords around his neck. Most of you probably know that a flash drive is a little device to which you can download vast amounts of data from your computer so that you can carry around the most important digital details of your life with you at all times. These little dudes were most definitely cool. Of course, I was the coolest kid on my block at that age also. I wore a skate key around my neck on an old shoelace. (see photo) Even when I wasn’t skating. Yeah.. I know that you’re wishing you’d known me back in the days when I was one of the cool kids...

The milkman would come first thing in the morning so the last thing you’d do at night would be to put out the empties on the front porch along with the little printed card where you checked off what you wanted the milkman to leave. I’d get up before my parents, sneak out to the front porch, check off “Chocolate Milk” and sneak back to bed. My mom would get angry because the milkman kept delivering something that she hadn’t ordered. One time she was up early when she heard the clanking of bottles outside and rushed out to confront the poor guy as he was delivering my chocolate milk. Once she saw the order card for the morning, the scam was revealed and the little chocolate-loving, criminal master-mind had been caught. Not cool... 

I spent the best summers of my life in that neighborhood. It was filled with young kids and we’d gather with our Roy Rogers cap pistols in the vacant lots to play Cowboys and Indians (today of course we would be playing “Cowboys and Indigenous Peoples”). Today, children take their bullet-resistant backpacks to school and afterwards wait behind security fencing for their mother or legally-authorized adult to pick them up. It was different back then. I walked the two miles home and often stopped at the corner soda fountain for a root beer. There was very little crime and strangers said hello and people were nice to each other. My career goal back then was to be a cowboy and I’d spend my days at home dressed like one of my TV heroes. But my mother insisted I dress nicely and forbid me to wear my Roy Rogers cowboy bandanna to school. Of course it was easy to hide the bandanna in my Lone Ranger metal lunch box, but I was busted when my mom saw the fourth grade class photo and I was the only one wearing a genuine Roy Rogers cowboy bandanna. Yep. Too cool even in school!

Okay.. Sure I was an altar boy from the age of nine but I was far from the perfect child. I suppose the worst thing I ever did was to become addicted to coke. Yeah I know what you’re thinking but it was surprisingly easy to do in those days. All of my friends knew where to get it. No secrets in our ‘hood. We’d tell our moms we were going to a friend’s house but we’d meet at the corner gas station. You had to go into the dark corner of the garage where you couldn’t be seen from the street. We’d nervously look around to make sure no one’s mom was pulling into the station as we took the dime out of our pocket and slipped it into the slot. The “Vendo” machine had no choices – there was only one lever to push down on. The heavy, thick glass bottle skidded down the chute and made a loud “clunk”as it hit the end. It was icy cold and condensation would immediately form on the bottle if it was a hot summer afternoon. You slanted the bottle into the opener, pushed down and heard the metallic clank as the cap dropped into the red, sheet-metal cap holder. You may not understand my addiction because Coca-Cola today tastes nothing like it did fifty-five years ago – not even like today's “Mexican” coke. We’d place the empty bottles in the special wooden bottle holder and sneak back home hoping our moms wouldn’t smell the coke on our breath. Since I’m confessing my bad deeds to you, I also used to chew Black Jack Chewing Gum which my mom prohibited me from doing because it would “rot my teeth.” But sometimes those of us rebellious bad kids were the coolest. Of course you could argue that because I really wasn’t all that bad maybe I wasn’t really all that cool. You might be right about that... 

What a different world it was in the fifties in comparison to today. I was thinking about this last week after coming across the Gene Autry Cowboy Code. This hung above my bed when I was a child, but I’d forgotten about it. Gene Autry, the “Singing Cowboy” was raised by his grandfather who was a Baptist preacher. Autry wrote in his biography that he was “not a devoutly religious man” but I can attach Bible scripture to Autry’s first nine Cowboy Code values. (Not the 10th because the Bible tells us that we are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God.)

If it were up to me, the next president of our United States would not recite the “oath of office.” On Inauguration Day, he or she would place their left hand on the Bible, raise their right hand, and recite the Gene Autry Cowboy Code. Can you imagine an America where we no longer hated each other, but treated each other with respect and kindness? I think our County would be a better, much nicer place to live in if our next elected president and all of us in American would agree to live by the Cowboy Code!

To Print the Gene Autry Cowboy Code,touch or click HERE For a PDF Version 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Need More God?

Dear Friends,

What would be the one single thing for you to have that would most improve the quality of your life? Check one:  ❑ More money? ❑ Better job? ❑ Nicer house? ❑ Healthier body? ❑ More God? While some of those may be difficult to obtain, if you picked “More God,” you can have that one right now. Guaranteed! Coming into the presence of God is to come into a place that we long for. Psalm 42:1-2 NLT But how do we do that? When our life is filled with worries, troubles and doubts – maybe even some doubts about God Himself – how do we go about living in God’s presence? 

The spiritual concept of living a life in the presence of God is rooted in the early Eastern (Orthodox) church Fathers and the monastic life where one was taught to be still and come into the presence of God. In our modern church, instead of simply being, our emphasis is on doing. We have formulas on how to pray, Bible reading plans, instructions for sustained fasting and a 12 lesson Bible study program guaranteed to show us how to follow Jesus Christ and grow our Christian faith! Nothing wrong with any of that. But what brings me into God’s presence is more often not what I “do” but what I stop doing. If I want “More God,” instead of trying harder to do more, I often find that it’s more helpful to take a break and do less. Sometimes I need to lay aside all the Christian “disciplines” and just take a vacation!

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God..” We read that and hear that as meaning: Be quiet. Be at peace. But the original Hebrew used here means to “quit struggling.” An expanded translation might sound like this: “Stop your striving and just kick back for awhile. Let go of trying to make something happen, and instead, just relax to see what I am doing here in your life. Forget the religious rules and take a break. If your spiritual wheels are spinning and you’re skidding off that pathway to righteousness, just stop and hang loose for awhile. Take a load off. Settle down. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, quit struggling. Stop your fussing. Cut it out. Be still. Know that I am God. Relax. I will restore and refresh you, says the Lord.” 

The Latin word translated as “be still” is the word “vacate” and it means the same in Latin and English. It means to vacate – to leave behind – the things we wrestle with and be free of those struggles. “Vacate” is the root word for our word vacation. When we are taking a “vacation,” we have “vacated,” or left behind any worrisome work and home obligations and refocused our thoughts on a pleasurable getaway. Paul tells us we must “work out our salvation” Philippians 2:12–13 and some of us become Christian workaholics fearful that unless we follow our own religious rules our soul will become dangerously backslidden. Yes, there is a time to read our Bible and know God through His Word but there’s a time to take a vacation with God and know Him through His presence. We need to empty out the clutter from our mind and set aside our worries and troubles. Relax before God and fully enjoy being in His presence. It’s as if God is saying: “Be still. Let’s you and Me take a vacation together.”

That’s what I need. When things get busy.. When the battle makes me weary.. When I’m discouraged.. When the scripture that tells me to “Rejoice always” 1 Thess 5:16 is lost in a sea of stress.. When my feelings got hurt, or even worse, when I just realized that I hurt someone else’s feelings.. When my day gets tough.. That’s when I need a break.

And a spiritual timeout with God doesn’t automatically mean it’s a time to become all religious and fervently pray. Prayer is appropriate for all  circumstances, but we must be careful to not just simply exchange a frantic secular activity for a frantic spiritual activity. That’s not taking a vacation. It’s just substituting a different type of work at the same obsessively dysfunctional pace. That’s when God might say to you: “Be still. Quit your struggling. Stop fretting and fussing. Let’s you and Me take a break together.” 

Sometimes we need to just be content to sit beside God and be with Him. No agenda. No non-stop prayer conversation. Just to sit-a-spell with our Father and be still. The early church and the monastics called this “contemplation.” To just be there. Centering all your attention and desire on God and letting Him be the sole concern of your mind and heart. We desire to come into God’s presence not for what He can do for us but simply for who He is. And in His presence, we find His peace. Life can get tough and if you’re like me, you may need a bunch of mini-vacations with God throughout your day. That’s when you’ll be walking alongside those deep Living Waters. You feel those stirrings of love in your heart for God. You feel His presence and His peace. He is restoring your soul. Your spirit is refreshed. You are on a vacation with God. Amen?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Got A Sin Sticker?

Dear Friends,

I had stepped on a “goat’s head sticker” in my dining room. I was wearing just socks and the sharp pain took my breath away. As I extracted the quarter-inch sticker as sharp as a hypodermic needle, I sent a silent thank you to God that it embedded itself in my foot and not in one of the soft paws of my cats. This time of year I have thousands on my property and because they stick to shoes and clothes it’s easy for them to accidentally get tracked indoors if you’re not careful. If a cat ingests one while trying to remove it from a paw with their teeth, it can kill them.

Years ago when my dog Elysee was alive and she and I were outside, if I saw her freeze in place and not take another step, I knew that she’d picked up a sticker. I’d immediately go to help her, but she’d limp away from me as fast as she could. A sticker in your paw is painful, but she knew how much it would hurt when the sticker was being pulled out. And she associated me with the pain of its removal and not with the absence of pain that would occur as soon as the sticker was gone. She’d be terrified and would tremble as I lifted her paw. But she eventually learned that when she had a sticker, I could make that pain go away. She learned that when the sticker embedded itself in her paw, she needed to just stop, lift her paw, stand there on three legs and wait for me. I’d grab the sticker and it would be gone. One second she could hardly move because of the pain and in the next, she’d be running and dancing around the yard again, instantly healed. I was her miracle worker!

Kind of like the process of sanctification. So many times we are limping around with sin stickers stuck in our soul. We can’t avoid them. We are imperfect humans falling well short of the glory in this life that will be ours in the next. So one moment we’re running joyfully through life and the next moment we’ve succumbed to a temptation, picked up a sin sticker and we’re skidding to a stop. If we fear the painful removal of that sin sticker, we will find ourselves settling for a flawed and compromised relationship with God. The process of sanctification can be uncomfortable. It can be confrontational. In fact, many of our real encounters with God are somewhat painful. And knowing that the Holy Spirit will confront us and convict us of our sins, we too often limp away as fast as we can to avoid Him.

Many of us just pretend the sin stickers aren’t there and we’ve learned to limp so artistically that none of our friends have noticed. And some of the best “church-going” Christians have become experts in “sin management.” We walk painfully through life and know that we’ve fooled others. And, we can only hope that we’ve fooled God as well. So in our whispered nighttime prayers, we hide the sins that our lips tremble to name because we cannot bear to bring them before Him.

We find ourselves running from God instead of running toward Him. We tremble at the approach of the Lord and fear the pain of removal when He reaches down and pulls those sharp little sin stickers out of our soul. But when we submit to God and allow Him to do so, as soon as we have been cleansed of our sin, we are now running and dancing and joyfully thanking God for pulling out our sin stickers.

The word “Sanctify” means to be set apart and made holy. Sanctification is the process of growing in Christ through divine grace following salvation. Once we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we begin to spiritually grow as we learn how to live and love like Jesus. And in our humanness we stumble, fall and pick up a sin sticker and once they’re there, they don’t fall out on their own. They have to be pulled out. Sanctification is the process where both you and the Holy Spirit are working to remove the sin stickers. That’s the on-going process of our repentance and His forgiveness. But you can’t be pretending the sin stickers don’t exist or try to run away from God. You’re going to have to stand still and lift your paw so that He can get to it.

Be honest with God. Remember, you’re not telling Him anything about you He doesn’t already know! Don’t ever be afraid of deep and abiding intimacy with God. When your Heavenly Father looks at you, He sees right through your mask. Psalm 139:1-7 He knows who you are. He can see each one of your sin stickers, and He loves you too much for you to have to carry those around and limp through life. 

At the end of each day, ask Him to show you where you’ve missed the mark. Psalm 139:23-24 Name the sin. Take responsibility for it. Own it. Confess it. Then ask Him to show you what you need to do to change that habit or avoid that temptation. John 14:13-14 And finally, receive His forgiveness Isaiah 43:25 and thank Him for His mercy and grace. Feel the peace of God. That sin sticker’s gone.

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?

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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