Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A Sign Of Hope



Dear Friends,

For many, this past year has felt like: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..” If you have not had the coronavirus, you undoubtedly know someone who has, and sadly, many of us have known someone who has died. And we’ve also all experienced what has felt like the “passing away” of our church, our close relationships with family and friends, our jobs, favorite stores and restaurants and life as we knew it. For nearly a full year it’s felt like we’re living in the valley of the shadow of death, and yet the entire verse is “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4 

According to the Bible app “YouVersion,” the most downloaded verse since the start of the pandemic is “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 When we are afraid and facing life’s hardships, we turn to the Lord for strength, peace and hope. Our politicians have recently been calling for “unity” but we have already been a Nation on our knees and united in prayer. And after a year of this plague, some have found that we are struggling spiritually and our prayers are losing strength. As Christmas approaches, many of us are weary, burned out and, even if we have stayed healthy, we are suffering from pandemic fatigue that has robbed us of the joy and hope that we have always had during our celebration of Christmas. Many of us have been praying for a sign from God that will restore and energize our hope, and that prayer has been answered. And no..I don’t mean the vaccine.

Astronomers and theologians are talking about the Christmas Star and its glorious appearance on December 21st (next Monday). Some are calling it a “miracle” from God and some are calling its appearance at the end of this year a coincidence. Maybe, but the older I get, and the more I’ve seen and experienced, the harder it is for me to believe in a Sovereign God to the extent that I do and at the same time believe in “coincidences.” The beloved Christian story in our Bible tells us that, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw His star as it rose, and we have come to worship Him.’” Matthew 2:1-2 NLT Some astronomers and theologians have long believed that the Star of Bethlehem was a conjunction – a close meeting – possibly Jupiter, Saturn and Mars that lined up in the sky to be a sign from God that Jesus – the hope of our future had been born. All we know for sure is at the time of this heavenly sign from God that, “...suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” Luke 2:13-14

As this year ends, God is once again sending this sign of hope to His people. The two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, will line up so closely that they will look like the largest and possibly the brightest star in the universe. No one is exactly sure what it will look like because no one alive has ever seen it. This celestial phenomenon was last seen 800 years ago in the early morning hours of March 4, 1226 and only the very young will still be alive when these two planets line up again this close in 2080. The best time to view it will be right after the sunset on Monday, December 21st. That’s when the planets will be the lowest in the western sky and if the weather is clear, you’ll be able to see it for about an hour. While it is the lowest on December 21st it will be visible higher up in the skies from December 16th to December 25th.

December 21st is the first day of Winter and the shortest day of the year. The sunset will be at 4:48 pm in the Los Angeles area. When you’re outside, look West (towards the ocean). When you see the lined up planets, pray a prayer of gratitude for His sign of hope. Imagine what it was like for the Magi to see a “Star” like this, know that their Lord and Savior had been born and that they needed to go and worship Him. As you gaze at our Christmas Star, spend some time in your own worship of Him.

God’s sign of hope is to the entire world! This celestial blessing from Heaven will be observable in every place on Earth. God sent the Star of Bethlehem to lead the Gentiles to Jesus, and today our own Christmas Star is lighting the way to Him and a wave of excitement has swept through the Christian world in anticipation. We will all see a very real and tangible God-ordained re-creation of the Star of Bethlehem that is His perfect timing. For this is the exact moment that we all needed the sign from Him that the hardships of this year will soon be over and all is right with the world! Jesus is coming!

“Glory to God in the highest, 

And on earth peace, 

goodwill toward men!” 


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Real Truth Of Christmas!

Dear Friends,

One of my favorite Christmas stories is about a 14 year old boy by the name of William Spurling. William was big for his age and some said that mentally, he was a little slow. But he was kind-hearted, a good friend to all and he was well-liked by the other kids and their parents.

When it came time for the church Christmas program to be presented, William wanted to be a shepherd, but the teacher decided that he would make a better innkeeper since he was so big. Even though William had a gentle personality, he physically fit the role of the big, mean innkeeper.

William worked hard to learn his lines and to act like the gruff innkeeper. Finally it was Christmas Eve and time for the Nativity performance. When Mary and Joseph came to the inn and knocked on the door, William  opened it right on cue. He said gruffly, “There is no place for you to stay! There is no room at the inn!” 

Joseph said, “But my wife is tired and she is expecting a baby tonight. Isn't there just a small room where we could rest?”

Once again, William said, with roughness in his voice, “You'll have to find a place somewhere else! There is no room in the inn!” Once more Joseph pleaded for someplace for them to stay the night. 

Then there was a loooong pause. William got a panicked look on his face and soon everyone knew that he’d forgotten his next line. An embarrassed silence engulfed the church. Then from behind the manger set came the voice of the Sunday school teacher prompting the innkeeper: “No, be gone! Be gone!” William was now nervous and a little flustered. He dropped out of the fierce innkeeper character and now his voice quivered as he hesitatingly said the “be gone” line.

“Be gone” was Mary and Joseph’s cue to leave and they both turned to do so with sad and troubled expressions on their faces. That was when William Spurling forgot that he was playing a role in a Christmas Pageant. “No! Wait a minute!” he blurted out. “You can stay in my room and I’ll sleep in the stable...”

Mary and Joseph were now frozen in place and speechless. The Sunday school teacher thought the performance was ruined and put her head in her hands. In the stunned silence, the pastor got up and slowly walked to the front of the church. “What you just heard,” he said with a smile, “is the real truth of Christmas and the message of the Gospel.”

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God incarnate. God the Son took on human flesh. We deserved a fiery punishment for our sins and Jesus took our place by going to the cross so that those who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life in Heaven. 

The birth of Jesus is God’s perfect gift to us. Not just the gift of the Baby, but the offer of forgiveness and salvation and of living a changed life in the presence of God. And then He steps back to see what we’ll do with His gift.

Sadly, many reject Jesus and His gift of salvation and in doing so they reject God. John 14:6; John 15:23 And then there are “Christians” who have accepted the gift but do so with indifference. They live a completely secular life and only turn to God for one hour on a Sunday morning. To those, Jesus would say “..you honor me with your lips but your hearts are far from me and you worship me in vain..” Matthew 15:8-9

But many receive God’s gift of Jesus with hearts filled with great joy and their Christian spirituality is a 24/7 lived experience and an authentic expression of their faith. 

Your gift is once again lying in a manger.. and God is waiting to see what you’ll be doing with Him this year...

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

An Advent of Abundance!


Dear Friends,

It's beginning to feel like Advent. A cold December chill permeates the house. The ground outside still wet from recent rains. Trees and plants washed of the urban soot and dust are once again bright and colorful. I step outside and the cold air penetrates the nostrils with a sharp crispness. The rising sun paints the clouds with a brilliant orange. I pray the Advent prayer prayed by the ancient church, “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus Come!”

The change of seasons means something different to each one of us. When the Winter chill signals the start of this new season, I think of soup. Sam’s Club has a three pound bag of Broccoli, Carrots and Cauliflower. Perfect. On a Saturday afternoon, a cube and a half of unsalted butter is melted in a ten quart soup pot. Sweet Onions are diced and sautéed. Garlic Cloves are squeezed directly into the buttery Onions and immediately release their flavors. The Flour is whisked in and cooked for just a minute. Then three quarts of Organic Chicken Broth  are slowly whisked into the Flour until there are no more lumps. A cup and a half of White Wine is stirred in and now full heat is applied to bring the liquid to a boil. I stir it occasionally while I inspect the bag of veggies. Everything is fresh so nothing needs to be trimmed or discarded. The whole bag is dumped in. A tablespoon of Celery Salt, or instead, a tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning is added and the soup is brought back up to a slow boil. The flame is now reduced to its lowest setting and the soup gently simmers until the veggies are soft but not mushy. Now it’s time to get out my industrial-sized immersion blender and the five quarts of soup are blended until it becomes thick and creamy. This will now feed your hungry family of fifteen people at dinner or feed two people for a week.

Many of us today know bread only as the device that’s used to convey the bacon cheese burger from the plate to the mouth, but for much of human history, bread was the staple in our diets. In the beginning there was bread. Genesis 3:19 In ancient biblical times, meat was reserved for feasts, bread was the primary food in their day-to-day lives and all other foods were the “side dishes.” Bread was considered a gift from God, by whose blessing the grain grows and it was used as an offering at Pentecost. Leviticus 23:16-17 Bread was baked on a flat rock or a ceramic plate in a “tannur,”an earthenware oven. I use a "pizza stone" (a thick, heavy unglazed cooking tile) in a Frigidaire oven but many thousands of years later it’s the same recipe: flour, yeast, salt and water.

That Sunday morning, I prepare bread dough seasoned with Italian herbs. After the first rise, it's folded and put in the refrigerator to develop the flavors. That afternoon, the  dough is taken out and patted down to about an inch thick. Sitting on the counter in the warmth of the afternoon sun, the yeast does its magic and it rises again. The dough is dimpled, coated with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and slid onto a pizza stone in a 550̊ oven. The soup has also been developing more flavor overnight in the refrigerator and it's now being reheated. The scent of the baking bread is overwhelming and when the golden brown loaf comes out of the oven, the soup is now steaming hot. There is no finer gourmet meal on a chilly Advent Sunday afternoon.



Then I come across this painting by Henry Tanner called THE THANKFUL POOR and I’m captivated by it. An older white-haired man with strong work-hardened forearms and hands. His teenaged grandson. A table set for two. Only one chair in the house; the boy sits on a stool.  What happened to his parents? His grandmother? A clean but well-worn tablecloth. Empty plates. A small loaf of bread between them and little else. Both heads bowed. Eyes closed. In my mind I can hear them thanking God for His blessings and an abundant life in Christ Jesus. 

I research the artist and find that Henry Tanner is considered the greatest African-American artist of all time. His mother had grown up as a child-slave and his father was a minister. I discover that Tanner is known for his biblical paintings and religious art. THE THANKFUL POOR was painted in 1894 and poignantly captures the deep faith that allowed suffering families to experience an abundant life in Jesus in the midst of their poverty.

This painting discomforts me. I look around my house and see too many things. Cupboards of dishes never used. A walk-in pantry with shelves to the ceiling filled with food ingredients. When we sit down to eat, our plates are filled with food. This Advent my thoughts are drawn to others so much more needful than I have ever been. I look again at the grandfather and the young boy and see that, despite their impoverishment, their faith has filled them with the wealth of God’s abundance and wonder if perhaps they are richer than I will ever be. I think about this as I eat my simple but abundant meal of bread and soup...Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus Come!

(My Advent Soup and Bread Recipes are HERE) 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Our First Christian Holiday

Dear Friends,

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

It was November in 1620 when the Christian Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. 102 people had set sail for the New World from England on the Mayflower. Four died during the rough journey, and after landing, another 45 died during an unexpected bitterly harsh winter.

One year later in November 1621, the fifty-three survivors (including 14 teenagers and 13 small children) declared a Day of Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims (Puritans) were the English Protestant Reformers who had always set aside special days of worship and prayer and those Christian practices had not changed in the move to America. When the Pilgrims landed in this strange wilderness, they immediately struck up a friendship with the Indians who taught them how to plant and harvest corn. These Native Americans showed the Pilgrim men how to fish and how to hunt the wild turkeys. In return, the Pilgrims gave them tools and showed them how to use them. So when the Pilgrims declared a three day feast of worship, prayer and giving thanks to God, they celebrated their blessings with their new Indian friends. Ninety Wampanoag Indians brought five freshly-killed deer to the “church potluck” and joined the fifty-three Pilgrims for this Nation’s first Thanksgiving feast. 

These first settlers celebrated many more feast days of thanksgiving by acknowledging the Lord God as their Sovereign Provider thus providing a spiritual principle which has undergirded the foundation of our Nation. John Adams was the 2nd U.S. President and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams described the principles upon which our Country was founded and the Declaration of Independence was written: 

"The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the.. general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United. Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System."

And by the time the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, Thanksgiving had been celebrated in America for over 150 years! From these first days in our Nation's history, days of thanksgiving were also periodically called by government leaders. And a yearly holy day (holiday) was established by a Presidential Proclamation in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November, “..as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Congress later changed this day of celebration to the fourth Thursday in November.  

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

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

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NOTE: More and more we are reading about those who are attempting to revise history and portray the Pilgrims as evil and the first Thanksgiving as a secular event. This from Christianity Today magazine is detailed and interesting.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Thanksgiving With Family This Year?


The NEW Thanksgiving! No masks required! Now you can enjoy your virtual Thanksgiving meal with the family in the privacy and safety of your own home. No more taking a tiny amount of Aunt Martha’s Jell-O Fruit Salad, eating that one polite bite and covering up the rest with your napkin when you help clear the table. Now you can gaze upon an ultra-high definition image of her jittery canned fruit without having to actually have it slip around on your plate and slime your turkey leg! Add a home theater surround sound system and you’ll replicate the authentic Thanksgiving experience of Ned’s false teeth clacking as he worries on a wing bone and your niece Brianna smacking her lips and softly belching as she reaches for another lumberjack-sized portion of mashed potatoes. And the best part is that after dinner you won’t need to sit on the couch between rowdy cousins Bill and Ed to watch a football game! You can just say goodbye and click on “Leave Meeting.”

____________________________

For many of us, Thanksgiving will be different this year and we’re not at all happy about that. L.A. County permits Thanksgiving family dinners with no more than two households, outside, wearing masks, sitting six feet from each other and a two hour time limit. Oh..and each family should bring their own food and utensils. Yeah. Right. But a recent survey shows that 55% of people will ignore Health Department orders and spend Thanksgiving with their family the same as always. 40% say it will be with more than ten people and the majority say they won’t be wearing a mask.

For those evaluating the risk of being with family and friends on Thanksgiving, it would be wise to do so under the assumption that nobody will be wearing a mask. That’s because the guidelines to wear a mask in the company of others, except when you are eating, give us a false sense of protection and may impair our ability to wisely evaluate the risks. Let me explain. Most of us will be inside and the current guidelines are to wear a mask and stay six feet apart. We sit around and talk for, let’s say, an hour before the meal, removing our mask to drink and to eat the  appetizers. We all then remove the masks and for the next hour or so we sit two or three feet away from each other or across the table from each other while we eat, talk, joke, laugh and belch. (Okay maybe that last one is just my family) Studies have now shown that Covid is spread by talking and breathing and so, after filling the air with large droplets and aerosolized microdroplets from our lungs and potentially exposing everyone at the table to any virus we may have, we put the mask back on and return to the living room. That means that assessing the risk is asking yourself, “I’m I comfortable with the thought of every invited guest, possibly sitting unmasked three feet away from my face while they’re talking and laughing?”

In California where we are already experiencing a major surge in coronavirus cases, hospitals are preparing for a post-Thanksgiving rush that could be overwhelming. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases said last week that we need to evaluate the risk of gathering with family and friends. He tells us that we need to consider age, underlining medical conditions, testing and quarantine of people who have traveled. We also need to consider the life-styles of all others who will be invited to that Thanksgiving dinner. Are they mask or no mask people? Do they go to dinners at friend’s houses or restaurants? Hang out with a large circle of friends or shelter at home with the cats? Unless we know them well enough to answer those questions, we must consider them to be potentially “high-risk” to us. Dr. Fauci said that maybe right now is not the time to have people in your house when you have to take your mask off as you’re eating and he encourages us to “seriously think about the risk-benefit ratio” meaning that a Thanksgiving feast may not be worth the two weeks in the hospital. .

As much as we love Thanksgiving, we must set aside our emotional desire to be with family and friends and objectively consider the risk. Because the most reliable tests generate false positives and false negatives, testing isn’t the answer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the current best estimate for Covid-19 infections that are asymptomatic is 40%. That’s why temperature screening and health questions are not the answer. As long as masks must be removed during the actual dinner, masks are not the answer. We need to use prayerful discernment in deciding how we spend our holidays this year. 

There are no “Covid Scriptures” in our Bible other than the one to “Love one another.” That means to do them no harm and we need to understand that our strong emotional desire to be with family and friends no matter what the risk, is a self-centered one that may impact the health of the loved ones we most desire to see. Loving others means not just evaluating the risk to ourselves but to our loved ones as well. I pray that God gives each one of us a heaping measure of both wisdom and discernment during these most difficult of decisions.  Amen?


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Election Stress Disorder


 Dear Friends,

WHERE: My Ophthalmologist’s Office (the one with the Bibles and Christian Tracts in his waiting room)

WHY: Yearly Checkup

WHEN: 0830 hrs – Wednesday Morning After  Election


Doctor: Big smile. Says, “So how’d you sleep last night?”

Me: “Took about 30 seconds to fall asleep because God is on the throne and in control.”

Doctor: (laughs) “Yes! We don’t put our trust in princes, in human beings...” quoting Psalm 146:3 NIV

Me: "And I think of the Psalm that tells us when nations rage and the kings set themselves on the throne, God sits in the heavens and laughs." quoting Psalm 2:1-4

Doctor: Grins, nods his head, looks at my chart and says “So.. any changes in your vision?”

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We are far more than just glad or sad. We are elated or devastated. America is finally back on the right track to peace and prosperity or it will be destroyed under the leadership of a progressive-leaning liberal administration. This election finally and fairly portrayed the will of the people or voter fraud stole the election and the democrats will fix it so that there will never again be another elected Republican president. Both candidates portrayed themselves as the savior of our Country and people worshiped one and vilified the other. Votes are in. The hate continues. The election is over but we’re not yet over the election. 

Hospitals in California are bracing for incoming patients suffering the mental and physical effects of what is now being called, “Election Stress Disorder.” Mental heath experts have said this election was a high stress event, especially with the amount of social media and news coverage dedicated to this year’s contentious race, and that potentially acts as a trigger for a panic attack which is when your body is feeling like you are in imminent danger. The hospital’s concern is that the symptoms for a panic attack can mimic more serious medical emergencies such as a heart attack. In 2016, some of us laughed at the fragile “snowflake” university students who were rushed to the hospital after seeing a Trump campaign sign and feeling “unsafe.” Now conservatives are being rushed to the hospital for their own anxiety-caused rapid heart beat and shortness of breath. It’s Deja Vu all over again!

That’s what happens when we’ve put our trust in a “prince” and he loses the election. Today it appears that a new prince may soon be enthroned in the White House, and while half of our Nation is rejoicing and the other half are buying guns and googling houses for sale in Canada, “God sits in the heavens and laughs.” 

Today, Joe Biden is calling himself the unifier of our country and the peacemaker. But I suspect that four years from now, we will look back at President Biden (or President Harris) and realize that once again we’ve put our trust in the wrong “prince” or “princess” as we have with every other elected president. And God will still be laughing. That’s because there is only one Prince of Peace and he’s neither Democrat nor Republican: “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Since the federal election for president is what’s causing us the most stress today, let’s turn first to the Federal Government for the best advice on what we must do to relieve our anxiety and regain perspective. The Federal Government prints on every piece of paper money and on every coin, our national motto: “In God We Trust.” If I’m not mistaken, I think our Bible would agree with that. And do a little self-examination now. The degree of your anxiety is inversely proportional to the amount of trust you have in God. High anxiety = low trust. High trust = low anxiety. God is a sovereign God, who is on the throne and in control of His Universe. You can believe it. You can trust in Him.

Secondly, there is a spiritual discipline called “detachment” that might be helpful for us to practice. Detachment is making important the things that bring us closer to God and detaching ourselves from those things that pull us away from God. Spiritual detachment has been described as a “serene acceptance” of our circumstances. Detachment or “intentional indifference” is mentally healthy but difficult to practice. Note that we detach, but we don’t disengage. Disengagement is disconnecting from society. Detachment is staying engaged but detaching emotionally. The first commandant is “Thou shall have no other gods before Me” and we have emotionally invested heavily in the god of politics. You can see that in the political rallies and protests. You see that in the hatred of others and resulting division in families, friendships and even in our churches. 

For many Christians, our strong emotional investment in secular politics is a disordered affection that has pulled us away from God. Appropriate engagement is your careful research of candidates and initiatives and seeking God’s will as you mark your ballot. Then emotionally stepping back and prioritizing to what and to Whom you give your time and your thoughts. I voted. I cared who won. But both myself and my Christian Ophthalmologist were able to detach and sleep soundly that night knowing that God was in control. He still is. He always will be. And that's why you can sleep well too. Amen?


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Our Oasis In A Pandemic...


 Dear Friends,

It sits near the edge of the harsh Judaean Desert that’s barren, rocky and sandy and any minuscule rainfall received is immediately evaporated by the incessant heat. There is little life in the arid desert climate. That’s on one side. On the other side, just three quarters of a mile away lies the Dead Sea. Over nine times saltier than the ocean, nothing lives in the Dead Sea. No plants. No animals. That’s how it got its name. It is truly a “dead” sea. Surrounded by a lifeless desert on one side and a lifeless sea on the other is an astonishing gift from God – an oasis overflowing with the abundance of life. 

The Biblical name for it is “Ein Gedi” which, in Hebrew, means “fountain of the kid” (ein = spring; gadu = goat kid).  Two fresh water springs flow in the oasis bringing an almost junglelike environment. Waterfalls playfully cascade into lush green grottos. Trees, plants, birds and animals abound in this oasis, and during the migration periods in the spring and fall, it’s the temporary home of over 200 additional visiting species. It is also the yearly destination of over a million visiting members of the human species! In the middle of lifeless desolation we are drawn to the abundant life in an oasis. In the middle of danger and despair we seek the sanctuary of the oasis and the presence of God. King David did. He fled from King Saul and found refuge and solace at Ein Gedi 1 Samuel 23:29 which is where David later spared Saul’s life in the well-known “cave incident.” 1 Samuel 24:1-22 It is believed that David wrote Psalm 63 during his sojourn at Ein Gedi: “In a dry and thirsty land. Where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary. To see Your power and Your glory.” Psalm 63:1-2

Nearly all of us are experiencing the most extraordinary year of our life. We were originally assured that we’d be back to normal by Easter.. then it was June.. and then October.. then Christmas.. now it’s sometime late in 2021. Then protests, unstoppable riots and the incredible hatred and permanent “cancellation” of those with different opinions. The most intense presidential election we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes with democrats and republicans attacking and shooting each other in the streets. If you’re familiar with King David’s narrative, that’s about how his life looked when he fled to Ein Gedi. Fear, uncertainty, anger, everything familiar now different, his vision for the future now changed forever. Abject hopelessness. In the middle of danger and despair, David sought the sanctuary of the oasis and the presence of God. But in this, our own time of danger and despair, what if we are already in the oasis and we just haven’t recognized it?

The pandemic robbed us all of any certainty of what tomorrow will look like. We cling to the “old” normal because it’s.. well.. normal. We reject this “new” normal out of our fear of change but what if our new normal is like Holland?

“Welcome to Holland” is an essay written by Emily Perl Kingsley that you can Google, but I’ll give you a quick synopsis. All your life you’ve dreamed of going to Italy. You’ve studied the guidebooks and learned the language and now the day has arrived. You get on the direct flight and when the plane lands, the stewardess picks up the microphone and says, “Welcome to Holland.” HOLLAND?? You’re in denial: “This can’t be happening!” You’re furious! You’ve been told there was a change of flight plan and your vacation is now in Holland. You need new guidebooks and a language book. You’re devastated. Holland is not at all where you want to be. All your life you just knew that one day you’d be in Italy. You’d planned for Italy. Now you’re in the last place you wanted to be. But soon you look around and see windmills. You see beautiful tulips everywhere you look. You’re still disappointed that you never got to Italy, but if you’d spent your time mourning what was lost, you’d never be free to enjoy the very special and wonderful things about Holland.

As life slowed down, friends tell me that they are spending more time with God in prayer. Churchgoers who were faithful but not socially connected are now receiving weekly phone calls from people they hardly knew. Those who rarely spoke with their pastor, now have conversations with him in their front yard. I see families bike riding together in the evenings and on Sundays. People are learning how to bake, crochet, paint, make crafts and according to the manger at my local Smart & Final, based on questions people have about ingredients, they are learning how to cook meals. Busy families who survived on fast food are now preparing healthier meals at home and the family is sitting down all together at dinner time. 

Our dreams and future plans to go to “Italy” may have fallen apart. Our “Holland” that we find ourselves in today may not have Rembrandts, or windmills but it has renewed and strengthened relationships with family and friends. It has forced us into a slower and less frantic pace that’s given us more time with our Heavenly Father and more time with loved ones. We miss the old, but the changes have given us new opportunities to spend our time differently and do things differently. When the virus obscured our hazy vision for our future we’ve been left with the reality of the beauty that surrounds us today and are perhaps seeing for the first time the tulips that were already there. Maybe our Holland is our Oasis. Amen?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Is Evil Really All That Much Fun?


Dear Friends,

I walked into one of those large discount stores on Tuesday morning and was greeted by dozens of evil demons. Hideous. Black faces with red, glowing eyes. They seemed to be looking straight at me. Some with devilish grins and some with faces frozen in silent screams. As I walked past a large group of witches, their eyes flashed at me and I could hear their cackles as my presence activated their battery operated motion sensors. It’s nearing that time once again when all of America celebrates evil on Halloween night. 

Why do we cry out in outrage over the evil we see manifesting in the Middle-East today where journalists and Christians are tortured and beheaded, and then we celebrate evil by staging gory displays of beheaded mannequins in our front yards? Why do we decry the genocide of Christians taking place in the homeland of Christianity, pray against the demonic powers and principalities that are driving these demonic acts Ephesians 6:10-12 and then dress our grandchildren in “adorable” demon costumes? Why do Christians join pagan witches and Satan worshipers in a night of celebration on October 31st and display the symbols and images of the Evil Ones in our homes?

Okay. I hear your horrified reaction. “But that’s not one and the same Pastor! You’re comparing real, ugly, harmful evil with pretend, fun and harmless evil..!” But symbols can be powerful images that evoke the reality of what they represent. Symbols are more than a representation of an object, they can connect you viscerally with that object. Let me show you what I mean.






Look at the picture of the Jack O Lantern. Do you see a popular winter squash that evokes images of a delicious pumpkin pie? 










Think for a moment about this painting of the cross... What images, feelings and thoughts come to mind? 













Look at this photo of a molded-plastic Halloween decoration... What thoughts and feelings are evoked with this image?
















And now look at this Christmas decoration. Think about the baby Jesus in a manger... What comes to mind? What are the thoughts and feelings you have about this decoration in comparison to the Halloween decoration? 








There is nothing intrinsically “evil” about a plastic and painted demon. There is nothing intrinsically “good” about a painted plastic baby in a plastic animal feed trough. But those plastic symbols evoke in our minds the reality of what they represent. Those two images call to mind completely different and opposite thoughts and create very different feelings and emotions. 

You just looked at two Christian symbols and two symbols of evil. Which of those two pairs seem to stick in your mind the longest? If the evil images are disturbing and seem to linger in your mind, that’s why God’s Word tells us to avoid “fellowship with demons” 1 Corinthians 10:20-21 and “avoid all forms of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:22 This scripture says that we are to abstain from even the symbols of evil.  

Religions have always used symbols to powerfully connect people with who they worship. Throughout the Old Testament, God continually tells His people through the prophets to cast down and smash the pagan idols. That’s because the idols were far more than a carved piece of wood or a likeness chipped into a rock. They were powerful spiritual symbols that became the “avatar” – the embodiment of the deities to those worshipers. 

The Bible very clearly instructs Christians to have nothing to do with the practices of demonic darkness. Halloween is a rite with pagan, demonic roots. (For more information on the origin of Halloween, click here) At this time of year, we need to use wisdom in what we bring into our homes because symbols also represent what/who we worship. If I walk into your home and see a cross on the wall, I know who you worship. If I see a large Buddha, I know who you worship. I knew someone who collected African Voodoo masks and saw photos of her living room walls. I knew who she worshiped. 

Back to Tuesday morning. I walked past the Halloween decorations, looked at the shelving that ran the length of the store and stopped. Stunned. WHAT? It’s August!! The “dog days of summer!” Stifling hot in the valley! And already I’m seeing Christmas decorations? But I couldn’t help to notice the contrast. If the demonic and pagan witchcraft decorations raised my anxiety level by evoking the reality of Satan. Now a few steps further in the store and the decorations symbolizing the birth of our Savior were evoking the reality of Jesus and I felt the peace of the Holy Spirit. 

Our homes are our “sacred spaces,” and the images within should communicate who we are.. our priorities.. what’s important to us. We surround ourselves with the symbols of who or what we worship. Do the symbols in your home authentically represent who you are? If not, what would you need to add or take out to faithfully communicate who you are to others? If you invited a new neighbor into your home for a cup of coffee would she know that you’re a Christian by what is symbolically represented? Do the images in your home glorify God and bring you into His presence? If not, do you think it would be spiritually helpful for you to do a little redecorating?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Trump or Biden?


 Dear Friends,

In America, about 83% of us are Christian believers and many of us are passionately concerned about the state of our Nation today and are fearful about our future. But who should we vote for? According to the liberal media (L.A. Times, CNN) President Trump is a racist white supremacist who hates all minorities, is misogynic (hates all women), is personally responsible for the 214,000 (to date) deaths from the coronavirus and is mentally unstable. The media reports that if he is reelected, our country as we know it will be destroyed and about 60% of us good, church-going Christian believers are fervently praying that Trump will be reelected for four more years. 

According to the conservative media (Fox News) Joe Biden is a senile old man masquerading as a moderate liberal when we all know he’s just a pawn of the radical left. The media reports that once elected, Biden will declare himself unfit for the presidency (or a democratic congress will) and under progressive, socialist President Kamala Harris, our country as we know it will be destroyed. About 40% of us good, church-going Christian believers are fervently praying that Biden will be our next president. Some believe that neither candidate is qualified to be president and that’s why I think my cat, Sean McDougal, has a good chance as a write-in candidate. (Ask me if you’d like some yard signs)

As a church pastor, I cannot endorse political candidates and wouldn’t if I could. That needs to be your thoughtful, prayerful decision based on sound reasoning and without the influence of the media or influence of the people in your life. Both campaigns and social media have done a wonderful job at manipulating our feelings about the candidates and have created a passionate anger that’s divided our Nation. The only way that liberals and conservatives can manipulate your vote is to manipulate your emotions. If you hate Trump you’ll vote for Biden; if you hate Biden/Harris you’ll vote for Trump and even the most devout Christians have been caught up in an unrepentant and sinful frenzy of hatred.

What might be helpful for us to consider as we darken that circle on our ballot, is whether personality or policy is most important for us. Based on how the mainstream media characterizes Biden’s personality, he gets my vote for the nicest guy in this dustup and the majority of Americans agree. A Gallup poll conducted at the end of September and released last week, reported that 66% of us believe that Biden is likable and only 36% say that Trump is. Are we shallow enough to vote based on a person’s likeability?

German and American political researchers conducted studies that showed likeability actually plays no factor in elections but “personal attractiveness” does. A politician’s personal attractiveness can actually raise his or her electability by as much as 11%. (My handsome and likeable cat is the only perfect candidate! Vote for Sean!)

If the “likeability” factor skews toward Biden, “leadership ability” skews toward Trump. In that same recent Gallup poll, 56% of us believe that Trump is a “Strong and decisive leader” while only 46% say that description applies to Biden. According to the same poll, nearly half of us in America believe that Trump displays good judgement in a crisis and is managing the government effectively. The other half of our country believes that Biden will also display good judgement and manage our country well if elected.

So how do we set aside the daily drama and high hysteria and know who to vote for? Let’s get right to the bottom-line. Twelve years ago, President Barack Obama promised that he would bring change to America and through his executive actions, made some of the greatest changes to our Nation and culture that we had seen in our lifetime. Four years ago, President Trump reversed those changes through his own executive actions and took our country in a completely different direction. The recent Gallup poll revealed that 56% of us believe that they are better off today at the conclusion of Trump’s four years than they were in 2016, and 32% said they were better off at the end of Obama’s term than they are now. 

We make our choice less about personality and more about policies when we ask ourselves the same question that was asked in the poll. “Would you say you and your family are better off now than you were four years ago, or are you worse off now.” If you agree with the 32% and believe you and your family were better off in the direction that Obama took the country, then you should put personality aside and vote for Biden. If you agree with the 56% of our Nation and believe that you have been better off under a Trump administration, then you should put personality aside and vote for him. It’s really that simple. Ignore the hysteria and hyperboles. Think. Pray. Vote.

Then chill out. The most disturbing thing about politics today is that it’s tearing apart families, friendships and even churches. Those of us devout Christians who sit in the blue-colored pews or the red-colored pews, are now yelling back and forth across the aisles, cursing each other on their facebook pages and “canceling” each other for supporting the “un-christlike” candidate. We’ve seen Christians viciously attacking each other for their political beliefs. That’s why we need to settle down, take a deep breath and consider my paraphrase of Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, there is neither Democrat nor Republican; there is neither liberal nor conservative for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Can you say “Amen” to that?

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Are You Infected With This Disease?


 
Dear Friends,

I have Schadenfreude.  Don't be concerned about me. It's not a deadly disease, but it’s something that I’ve struggled with all my life. Right now, I’m happy to report that my Schadenfreude is in remission and I’m symptom free. But I need to be careful and so do you because it’s highly contagious and we can all too easily become infected if we are around others who are manifesting the symptoms of Schadenfreude.

In my high school there were four social groups: Surfers, Greasers, Socs (pronounced SO-chez), and Nerds. I had a pocket protector with mechanical pencils and small screwdrivers and that’s all we’ll say about that. Mick was the Hollywood High alpha greaser (greasers did not refer to race or ethnicity – it referred to any tough dude who slicked their hair back, wore leather jackets in the heat of summer and nearly all in my school were white guys). These were the celebrity bad guys. You didn’t mess with them. They didn’t walk; they strutted with long steps and a peculiar up and down movement. It was during an assembly in the auditorium and I was up in the balcony projection booth because nerds weren’t on the football team, we were on the stage crew. In the middle of the program, Mick got out of his balcony seat and did his tough guy strut down those steep, unlit, concrete steps. Yep. That’s what happened! He shrieked like a little girl as he took that first misstep and went head over heels all the way to the bottom. It was the most wonderful and hysterically funny thing I’d ever seen and, along with everyone else, I couldn’t stop laughing. 

Schadenfreude [SHAW-den-froay-dah] is a German word and there is no real equivalent in English. Schadenfreude means “a pleasure that is derived from the misfortunes of others.” Schadenfreude is that inner delight that we have – that feeling of joy – when we see someone else fail.

I know a woman who speaks nothing but negativity and criticism about Christianity. She earns her living by giving motivational talks using new age teachings. Without going into details, she lives her life in a way that invites ridicule. She did something publically that was very hurtful and slanderous to a Christian organization and she was going to suffer the consequences. I was delighted to think that she would pay the price for her anti-Christian rants. That’s Schadenfreude.

A progressive pastor in a very liberal denomination, once told me that he hates all Republicans because, “Jesus hates them.” This pastor is serious – Jesus hates conservatives. According to him, if I don’t hate Trump and his supporters I can’t call myself a Christian. According to my Bible, if you do hate anyone, that’s a serious sin. Someday this pastor will be standing before Jesus in judgement and I’m sure this will come up in conversation. That’s not Schadenfreude. There is no joy in imagining what Jesus might say to him. I’m even concerned for his soul. One of the most frightening statements that Jesus ever made is in Matthew 7:21-23.

When the tough guy fell down in the balcony, I had no concern that he could be seriously hurt or could hit his head or break his neck and die. I hated the guy so much that my heart was filled with joy as he tumbled down the dark, concrete steps. He wasn’t seriously hurt, but if he had been, I’m sure that my thoughts would have been that the jerk had it “coming to him.” I was too immature as a Christian to realize that being joyful over someone’s illness, suffering or death is absolutely wrong no matter who they are, what you think about them and even what they may have done to you. Schadenfreude is a serious sin. When Jesus said, “love your neighbor,” He wasn’t kidding about that.

When I began to see the cruel responses to the announcement that Trump and his wife had Covid-19, my first thought was “Schadenfreude.” Some responses were filled with grace and compassion. Joe Biden said he and his wife were praying for their quick and full recovery. A fervent Trump critic and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow immediately responded: “God bless the president and first lady. If you pray, please pray for their speedily and complete recovery.” Biden’s and Maddow’s responses were America at it’s best. 

But when it appeared that Trump’s symptoms may be serious, “Saturday Night Live”, host Chris Rock and Jim Carrey started the show with mockery about the president’s illness and hospitalization. A survey showed that nearly half of Democrat voters were happy that Trump had Covid-19. Democratic politicians were far more sarcastic than kind with their comments and a Hollywood celebrity film-maker tweeted “my thoughts and prayers are for Covid-19,” meaning that his prayer was that the virus would kill Trump. On social media, there was an explosion of hatred from liberals who wished Trump would die. Anyone who desires, wishes, or prays for the death of a person needs to stop and seriously examine their own soul. That’s pure evil.

Having the common decency to “love your neighbor” shows that you have the Christian values that are indicative of a spiritually healthy person. How we responded to Trump’s illness had nothing to do with how we feel about him as our president. Our response was the revelation of our own heart. Our response was not about him but was a reflection of who we are as a person – as a Christian. Our response was an indication of the level of humanity in which we choose to live. Some of us Christians responded with concern and prayer. Sadly, some of us Christians responded with mockery and Schadenfreude. Some liberal Christians even responded with hatred, a celebration of Trump’s suffering, and death wishes. That’s a glimpse into the sad state of some of our Nation’s churches. Nearly all progressive clergy actively or implicitly promote a hatred of Trump and his supporters who comprise one half of our Nation. Denominations and churches that preach hate are the ones who are shedding members and are teetering on the edge of a spiritual abyss. 

It was Jesus Himself who told us that God had devised a test so that the world would know who the followers of Jesus are. He said that we will be known as Christians by the Christ-like love we have for others. John 13:34-35


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The NEW Prosperity Gospel!


Dear Friends,

Have you ever walked out of a dark theater or dimly-lit restaurant and been overwhelmed by the brilliance of the mid-day sun? The contrast brings a greater awareness of the darkness we’ve exited from and accentuates the light that we’ve entered into. I recently went to Sam’s Club and saw both evil and good displayed right next to each other on the warehouse shelves. Both darkness and light are on sale at member’s-only special prices during the upcoming holiday season, and as we cycle through Fall and Winter holidays, perhaps the one good thing we can say about Halloween is that when it’s over, we step out of the darkness and celebration of evil and into the brilliant light of Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

I see displays of harvest baskets with the brilliant, golden colors of autumn. I see gravestones, skulls and skeletons symbolizing death, alongside Nativity sets signifying life. I see animatronic demons with flashing red eyes and I see fire-breathing dragons. I see Mary kneeling next to the baby Jesus lying in the manger. I wonder what possessed the store manager to display the demons right next to Jesus. What a contrast between darkness and light when we transition from Halloween to Thanksgiving and then to Christmas!

But I wonder if we should also be transitioning from a season of Thanks-Getting into a season of Thanks-Giving. We love Thanksgiving and celebrate it as a day to feast! But do our prayers sound like this? “Thank you Lord for Your bountiful blessing of this Thanksgiving Feast, as we consume turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes smothered with gravy until we are bloated with Your blessings.”

We express our thanks and gratitude to God throughout the year: “Thank you God for Your generous financial provision,” we pray as we quickly deposit that check safely in the bank where no one else can get their grubby hands on our money.

“Lord, thank You for all your good gifts this Christmas,” we pray as we add another cute, red top to the twelve red tops we already have hanging in our closet. Or unwrap the latest, ergonomically-correct, computer-balanced, miracle putter guaranteed to improve our golf game. (Okay..maybe we do need that...)

“Thank you Lord for all You have blessed us with,” as we survey our packed garage or storage rooms filled with expensive things we will no longer use (and perhaps never did?).

And many years ago, during this season of giving thanks to God, He put on my heart that I needed to start practicing and preaching the Prosperity Gospel. No, no, no. Not that Prosperity Gospel! I’m talking about an entirely NEW Prosperity Gospel. 

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

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

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

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

Have you become swept up in a swirling tsunami of things? On a first-name basis with the Amazon Prime driver? Bloated with blessings that are rusting away and attracting moths? The NEW Prosperity Gospel says, “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness..” Isaiah 58:10 If you practiced the NEW Prosperity Gospel, what would your priorities look like? What would you be doing differently in your life? With your money? With your things? With your time? Are you willing to turn this season of Thanksgetting into a season of Thanksgiving?


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

How To Thrive Spiritually In A Pandemic!


Dear Friends,

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I snap at her, “I have the patience of a Saint.” She rolls her eyes and calls me “Saint Impatient” for the rest of the day.

She and I seem to have a misunderstanding about my wonderfulness that we’ve not been able to resolve. When I take a selfie, I’m always surprised that I don’t see a golden halo over my head as portrayed in the icons of the ancient saints. She and other loved ones see me as a cranky old Christian curmudgeon and I fail to understand how our perceptions can be so different. I pray that their eyes will be opened to the truth.

Okay.. The truth of course is that, from time to time, we all suffer from the sin of impatience. We confess that we sin daily in “thought, word and deed” and it’s those minor sins of gossip, anger, pride, an unloving attitude, desiring what others have, etc. that disqualify us from wearing the golden halo. But it’s the minor sin of impatience that’s creating major mental health problems during the pandemic. 

..it’s the minor sin of impatience that’s creating major mental health problems during the pandemic.

Impatience is a lack of tolerance and acceptance in any given situation. The “Closed” sign in the above photograph was funny six months ago. No more. We were willing to tolerate a Covid lock-down for a month or so but we’re now at the end of our patience as nothing has changed and there is no end in sight. Hairdressers, restaurants, retailers and even pastors have run out of patience and reopened when it was not safe or legal to do so. I have no tolerance for masks. They severely test my patience as I hurry through the grocery store, lifting up the bottom of the mask every so often to take a breath of fresh air and then ripping it off my face as soon as I’m outside.

We can’t blame our lack of patience on the pandemic – we’ve become a culture of impatience. We honk our horn at the car ahead of us two seconds after the red light turns green. We’ve lost interest in detailed news stories and prefer summaries and sound bites. I know people who won’t read anything longer than a text and a good friend, who is even more impatient than I am, doesn’t use those tedious and unnecessary things called “words.” His texts to me often consist only of acronyms and emojis. Our cultural impatience demands instant gratification, creates our sense of entitlement and we are only happy when things are done our way and in our approved time-frame. Our impatience is what’s causing our stress and unhappiness with the “stay at home” restrictions that interfere with our day-to-day lives and personal freedoms!

But it’s this very lack of tolerance and unacceptance of our temporary circumstances that’s causing our mental health problems today. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that as a direct result of the Coronavirus, the percentage of men reporting depression rose from 7% to 22% and depression among women jumped from 10% to 33%. The number of adults considering suicide has doubled in just the past few months. Younger people (18-24) are in a time of great crisis with nearly half reporting depression and in the past 30 days, 25% of them have seriously considered suicide because of the pandemic. Many report the “prison-like” conditions of stay-at-home and social distancing restrictions being the cause of their anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness.

What both prisoners and monks have in common is that at some point they made a life-changing decision that resulted in their strict living conditions. Whether their day-to-day life is tightly controlled by an abbot or a prison warden, they must accept the consequences of their choice with patience, tolerance and acceptance or their mental health will be greatly impacted. 

Of course our Covid restrictions today are not the consequences of a personal choice, but our living conditions are now tightly controlled by government authorities. When we can leave our house, where we are allowed to go, how we eat meals outside our home, what we can and cannot do, whose house we can visit, how we worship at church, what we must wear on our face, where we are allowed to walk, stand or sit outside our homes are all under control of State and County health officials. And for the betterment of our own mental health, we need to embrace our temporary circumstances with patience, tolerance, acceptance and grace.

The obvious difference between the criminal and the monk is that one went to the ugliness of a prison against his will while the other went to the beauty of a monastery according to the will of God. We may protest our perceived “prison-like confinement” at home during the Coronavirus but perhaps that perspective would change if we were to welcome the monastic-like living conditions in which we find ourselves. The closest experience any religious person can have to live in God’s house would be a monastery or convent. A place of peace. A sacred, holy place where we come into the presence of God. 

Few of us would describe our homes as a place of peace. Fewer still would describe where we live as a sacred place. That’s because we compartmentalize our lives and schedule our worship for a specific time in a specific place that we call “church” on Sunday morning. But we haven’t been able to do that for the past six months and some of us have become spiritually dry. Without our church to nourish our souls, some of us may even be starting to feel distanced from God and what will always close that gap is our return to our worship of Him.

Our soul cries out for worship and watching YouTube church services may be interesting, edifying and even entertaining but it’s not what the Bible describes as worship.(see footnote) Scriptures referring to “worship” always describe it as active participation by a person. Worship is what you do. Not what you watch someone else do on your phone or computer. When was the last time you worshiped your Lord in your home? Sang hymns or songs of praise and worship? Knelt down to pray? Stood and raised your hands to pray? Danced to the Lord? Spoke to God aloud and gave Him your words of praise and thanksgiving? These are some of the actions our Bible describes as "worship." In the monastery, worship and work are inseparable and flow together intertwined throughout each day. Community prayers take place at certain times but individual prayer becomes the background music of the monastic’s life as they “pray without ceasing.” 1 Thess 5:16-18 

Moving from a Coronavirus home-bound prison environment to a sacred monastic environment in your home requires nothing more than a change of heart and the welcoming of a time in your life to become closer to God. In His presence, any anger and impatience at our living conditions fade away and we accept these new circumstances with grace. Hope rises and overcomes feelings of despair as we now wait with patience and look forward to what God is doing in our lives during this new season.

“Patience is a virtue,” we’re told and patience (also translated as longsuffering) is listed as one of the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT. Galatians 5:22-23 Patience has been defined as “waiting without complaint” and when we do so, we inherent the promises of God through our faith and patience. Hebrews 6:12

While we’re patiently waiting, we don’t want to waste an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth so we ask ourselves: What is God showing me during these temporary circumstances? Is God showing us the ugliness of our anger over trivial things that used to be only mildly irritating? Are we seeing our lack of patience with our loved ones? Are we willing to work on those minor sins in partnership with God? 

Is God redeeming the scourge of “social distancing,” and showing us through newly opened eyes how important our family and friends are? What do we miss about those who don’t live with us? Meals? Conversations? Hugs? When the pandemic is over, how will your relationships be permanently changed? With both church and shopping mall doors locked for the past six months, which doors are the ones you long to see reopened? What’s God showing you as you think about that last one?

Perhaps the most helpful thing for us to do during this time of patient waiting is to keep reminding ourselves that these present restrictions of our freedom and lifestyle are temporary. Redeem these many months of waiting by allowing God to make this time a teaching moment for us. As we journey down the path of becoming more like Christ and less like us, what are those minor sins that God would like to help you remove from your life? Confess those sins of thought, word and deed at the end of each day and receive His forgiveness. When you slip up during the day, confess that sin immediately to God and you will find that those “sin slip-ups” become less and less frequent.

And every day come into His presence with your worship. During this time when you can’t go to church, bring the “church” into your home. Intertwine your worship with your work and pray without ceasing by keeping God in your thoughts throughout the day. Sit down with your Bible at least once a day and feed your soul by immersing yourself in the Word of God. Tune out the negativity and chaos of the world and focus your thoughts on the goodness of God. Worship Him by expressing our words of thankfulness and gratitude to Him. Turn off the news media that fills us with stress, anger and sadness and fill your home with wall-to-wall Christian music. You can rename your home by calling it your church, your monastery, your cathedral or you can even call your home: “SAINT ________’s CHURCH OF THE REDEEMED” (insert your first name in blank space). 

The social distancing that keeps us at home is our opportunity to spend more time in God’s presence and feel His peace. And as we respond to the present circumstances in the rhythm of the divine, we will wait without complaint and respond with His grace.  Amen?

________________

1 What the Bible Says About Worship

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Do You Speak Christianese?


 
Avast me Hearties! (Dear Friends),

This coming Saturday (Sept 19th) is INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY which just so happens to be one of my favorite holidays! When I was a young lad, my career goal was to become a pirate and while things didn't work out like I'd planned, it's probably for the best since it would be difficult for me to type this with a troublesome hook in place of my right hand. But I still love watching the old Errol Flynn pirate movies; I live my boyhood dreams on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and every September 19th I can thoroughly annoy my loved ones by talking like a pirate. Shiver me timbers! ‘Tis a foul storm approaching that be sending ye to Davy Jones Locker! Arrgghh!! (Singing) Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me..

What does all this have to do with our Christian faith? Pirate jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people laugh. Christian jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people confused.

While we believers don't yet have a secret handshake, the secret language that we use to communicate with each other can be just as exclusive and alienating to those who may be outside the Christian clubhouse doors and trying to get in. If you've ever been with other people who unintentionally excluded you from their conversation by speaking in a language you didn't understand, you know what that feels like. 

Our “Christianese” can exclude the very people we are trying to reach. If I invite someone to “ask Jesus into your heart,” she may have no idea what I'm talking about. If I tell her that, “Jesus was the propitiation for her sins,” she'll need a dictionary to understand me. If I tell her that “Jesus made atonement for her so that she'll be justified, redeemed and sanctified,” her eyes will glaze over. 

But what if I tell her that “Humans have been separated from God by our rebellious nature and that’s what we call sin. And, Jesus, through His sacrificial death upon the cross, paid the penalty for our sins. When we accept and believe in Jesus, our relationship is then restored with God and we will have eternal life.”



There is absolutely nothing wrong with our using the beloved words and phrases that describe our  beliefs and how we live out our faith. It's all biblical
 and it's the language that we use to effectively communicate with each other. But when we're speaking to a non-Christian, or a new believer unfamiliar with Christian jargon, we need to speak their language, not ours. 

Whether giving someone driving directions, talking politics or matters of faith, communication has not taken place unless the person we’re speaking with has understood what it is that we’re attempting to say.

When speaking to others about your faith, and communicating the “Good News,” always try to think about what you are saying from the perspective of the person with whom you are speaking. 

“Aye! When ye parley with yer Matey, speak smartly that they savvy!” Colossians 4:6 APV (Authorized Pirate Version) 

“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone!” Colossians 4:6 NLT

Until next week, me Hearties! Arrgghh!! 

I mean.. 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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