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?

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Be Quiet And Listen...


Dear Friends,

There was that one Sunday morning during my prayer time, that God told me to “shut up.” Of course He said it nicer than that. I’d been praying and thinking about a couple that we had dinner with the night before. These are not their real names but we’ll call them Denise and Bob. You don’t know them but I have a suspicion that you may know a Denise – most of us have at some point in our lives. A top salesperson for a large nation-wide company, Denise is a dear lady but talks non-stop and dominates and controls every conversation. If you were ever so bold as to try and interject a comment to join the conversation, she will simply raise her voice over your unauthorized attempt to interrupt her monologue.

We had joined them for dinner at a restaurant and the two main topics on her agenda were her recent trip to Germany and her attempts to learn the German language. No detail, no matter how insignificant, was deemed too trivial for our entertainment. She has the amazing gift of being able to actually talk while eating, and when I say she talks nonstop, I mean that literally. At one point, she had finished talking about her vacation and asked me a question about the church. But before I could reply, she immediately switched her gaze back to Rhianna to clearly signal to me that she was not interested in my response. I had the audacity to answer anyway and gave her a ten second sound bite which, judging by the expression on her face, was twice as long as was warranted. She didn’t acknowledge that I had spoken but immediately switched the conversation to the remodel of their Big Bear cabin. I glanced at Bob as he thoughtfully chewed his burrito. He had mentally checked out more than an hour ago and seemed to be happy and content in his non-speaking, support role of husband to his extroverted wife. Dinner was over but we were now hearing about her adventure at the paint store while selecting colors for the new cabinets and Denise didn’t seem to be in any danger of losing her momentum. I signaled to the waiter for more chips...

Back to Sunday morning. I’d prayed for her salvation but as I thought about last night’s dinner, my thoughts about her were becoming far more critical than kind. I was feeling a sadness for Bob and thinking that because Denise’s only area of interest is her, just how dysfunctional and one-sided any relationship with her would be. I’m thinking that the biggest bore has to be the thoughtless, selfish person who can talk at you for an hour and a half non-stop without a shred of interest in what you have to say...

And at that exact moment the quiet still voice of God interrupted and said: “That’s how you pray to me.” And, that was when He told me to “shut up.” Actually His exact words to me were: “Be quiet and listen..” 

The church often does an outstanding job at teaching us how to pray. We’re given prayer guides and acronyms like A.C.T.S. to remember “Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving & Supplication.” In many Evangelical churches, “prayer warriors” and intercessors are lifted up to a place of honor as we covet their articulate extemporaneous prayers. Many of us have been taught that the purpose of prayer is to ask for His help for us and for others, and we present our list of wants, needs, and special requests to God as if He were a cosmic vending machine at the ready to do our bidding. Churches publish prayer lists of people’s needs which can be helpful, but not if our prayer time is simply checking off the items on our list as we tell God what to do.

And yes, of course God wants to know the desires of our heart because He loves and cares for us. And our prayers of petition are efficacious. Remember James tells us, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16 NLT But it’s worth noting in the A.C.T.S prayer guide that adoration, confession and thanksgiving are the priorities that come before our supplications. 

And while many of us are good at praying, we’re not so good at listening. Churches often do a good job in teaching us how to speak to God in our prayers, but it’s a one-way conversation. And many of those same churches forbid, discourage, or mock those mystics among us who meditate on God’s word to hear His voice. And yet we read in the Gospels that Jesus often went to the mountaintops and withdrew to the quiet places to pray and then to hear from God. The prophet Samuel said, “speak God for your servant is listening” 1 Samuel 3:10 and Jesus often said to His disciples, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”  

Meditating on God’s word is to read scripture, or pray to Him and then just quietly sit still in His presence and open our ears. We may sense or hear that quiet still voice of God. We may feel His peace. We may be filled with a Holy Spirit given conviction. God has always desired a two-way conversation between Creator and His creation and He has things He wants you to hear. His life-changing words to me may also be His words to you.. “Be quiet and listen.”


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Are You Blocking Your Blessings?


 Dear Friends,

Descanso Gardens in La Canada-Flintridge is a sensational, verdant oasis in our valley foothills. The Tulips are amazing in the Spring. The Camellia Garden is cool and green in the Summer and the evergreen Oak Tree Forest is still welcoming in the desolate winter months. For the first time in six months we visited Descanso last week and appreciated the lush green gardens, green trees, green Camellia bushes and a green lake... A green lake? Yuck! 

For years the lake has been choked with a thick, green layer of rotting algae. Once pristine blue, you could stand on the observation platform and see hundreds of brightly-colored fish and large colonies of turtles swimming and sunning themselves. The lake was known for its variety of birds and ducks. But for years now, my favorite place in the gardens has turned into a cesspool. The only fish present seemed to be the floating dead ones that had suffocated under the thick layer of stinking algae. The turtles had survived by being able to stick their head out of the slime, but the few left were coated with green sludge. What happened? New environmental laws no longer permitted the lake run off into the county storm drain system, and the inflow from the natural springs had been restricted to a trickle to just maintain the water level. With a blocked outflow, this once healthy body of water teeming with life, was now a stagnant pond of what could have easily been mistaken for industrial waste with its dead and dying plants and wildlife.

Have we restricted the inflow of God’s 

blessings into our life

 because we’ve blocked the outflow?

We desire and pray for God’s blessings to flow into our lives every day, but have we robbed ourselves of what He wants to give us? Have we restricted the inflow of God’s blessings into our life because we’ve blocked the outflow? The Lord calls us to live unselfishly and generously. But can we do that if we are unwilling to give to others what we receive from Him? Will God reward us if our only focus is on what we can get from Him? We may piously declare that “It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” Acts 20:35 but if we were honest, we might have to admit that’s not how we live our lives. Humans are hardwired to acquire and hoard stuff. The caveman stuck that antelope haunch behind the rocks; we ransacked and pillaged Costco for toilet paper. In the beginning of the pandemic, we selfishly filled our shopping carts overflowing with foods we didn’t really need and deprived others of food they did need.

And when we hoard the blessings given to us by God, like the lake at Descanso, our blocked outflow can cause our spiritual life to become stagnant and start to stink. When we become a “Christian,” meaning "a follower of Jesus," we also become His ambassador. We become His personal representative to a lost and hurting world. He has assigned us this temporary home we call “earth” in order for us to minister to His loved ones and we are to follow His example. Jesus said, “I am among you as the One who serves.” Luke 22:27 

The life of a Christian is far more than just an hour watching a Sunday church service. If the Son of God’s life was centered around encouraging, teaching, service and giving, that’s to be the life of His followers. I mentioned in last week’s AMEN Corner, that when I was in the Bible University, it was my senior pastor who taught me how to pastor a church. He told me to follow him and do everything he did. I learned how to be a pastor by following Jack Duitsman, but I learned how to be a Christian by following Jesus. He shows us a lifestyle of service, giving, compassion and mercy and then tells us to go and do likewise. Luke 10:37 In essence, living out our faith is simply blessing others with what God has already blessed us with.

You have a unique gift mix of talents, abilities and gifts. You can make things, bake things, read things and do things. You may know the computer or medical needs, how to fix an old car, help with financial planning or with programming a TiVo. You can make that phone call to lift the spirits of someone lonely and struggling. You have at least one spiritual gift that the Holy Spirit has given you for the use of others. 1 Corinthians 12:7 Our God-given abilities, gifts and talents have not been given to us solely for our own selfish enjoyment. Blessings that God has released into your life are to flow out of you and into the lives of others.

During this time of a pandemic, when people are more needful than perhaps ever before, we are surrounded with opportunities to do unto others as Jesus would do. And while we help others not for selfish reasons, God does reward us and the more you give to others, the more you will receive from Him. Luke 6:38; Luke 14:13-14; Colossians 3:23-24 Don’t choke off the outflow of His blessings and become like a spiritually stagnant lake. Open up the floodgates and let His Living Water flow through you!  Amen?


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Just Help Me Jesus...



 Dear Friends,

You learn theology in a Bible University or Seminary but you learn how to be a pastor in a mentoring relationship with a pastor. My mentor was the senior pastor at a Foursquare church of six hundred members in Santa Clarita where I was the Director of Men’s Ministries. Pastor Jack told me, “Watch me and do everything I do.” I was going to learn how to be a Pentecostal pastor!

Pastor Jack was a fervent pray-er! His voice swooped up to a crescendo and down again. Prayer was loud, intense and dramatic. As his fervency increased, his hands would tremble, spittle would fly out of his mouth and he would start to shake. He said the spittle and the shaking was the Holy Spirit coming on him as he prayed. I didn’t doubt that, but I was always cautious to not stand too close in order to avoid being anointed with the holy spittle. 

I’m a quick learner and soon had the Pentecostal patter down pat. As my voice swooped up in volume and fervency, people would shout “yes” and “amen” as I prayed in church. I was soon ordained in the Foursquare Church, the second largest Pentecostal denomination in the world.

My best friend and accountability partner was my religious opposite. Jim was a life-long Lutheran and president of a Long Beach Lutheran megachurch. We met every week and would always pray together: “Vouchsafe to grant us Thy blessings and lift Thy rod and staff as Thou saveth me from mine enemies,” he would somberly intone in a resonant voice. “In the name of JEEZ-US, I BIND all demonic powers and CRUSH every stronghold under my feet,” I would shout as my right hand began to tremble. And God looked down from Heaven, shook His head and said, “What’s up with these guys?”

I know you don’t pray that way, but many of us have learned how to pray by listening to others like my friend and I had done. And, as soon as prayer becomes a verbal recitation based on a learned technique, it stops being prayer and becomes a performance – a religious “style.” The prayers in Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Black, Orthodox churches reflect their very different prayer traditions and are unique to that flavor of Christianity. 

But in our own time of private worship and prayer, we need to not simply imitate a church style. God intended for prayer to be an intimate conversation with your Creator. At the very heart of authentic prayer is you – standing spiritually naked and vulnerable before God.

Sometimes our desire to pray the right thing, the right way, is out of hope that our prayers will be “effective” and have a positive effect on our lives and the lives of our loved ones. But God is just as concerned about our prayers being “affective.” To affect means an emotional influence and a tender attachment or fondness. God wants our intimate prayer time with Him to have a tender and deep influence on us. To not just know about His love but to feel His love.

If we find ourselves desiring a deeper and more meaningful prayer life, the first step may be to set aside everything we’ve learned about “how” to pray. Prayer is a conversation that becomes false and forced when we express our words through a learned prayer format or technique. And, we will never have a truly authentic, fruitful conversation if we have to be concerned about having to say the right things in the right way.

During this time of the coronavirus, we have been forced to social distance from others, but with the closure of our churches, some of us have found themselves distanced from God. Some churches teach a doctrine that we are saved by and through the church – the church is our conduit to God. And now that it’s closed, we feel spiritually alone and isolated. But Jesus is our personal Lord and Savior. He is always with us, and when we pray, God inclines His ear to listen to us. Psalm 116:1-2

There is no need to try and replicate a church prayer ritual. As we set aside “quality time” for our loved ones, we set aside our devotional time with God. We go to our sacred space – in our  home, in our garden – in full expectation that we will be met by Him. We tell Him we adore Him, we praise Him, we ask forgiveness of our sins and we thank Him. Or we just tell Him about our day. He knows our needs, but we tell Him anyway. We speak to Him in our own words. Words that may not come easily. “Jesus..I want..I don’t know..Just help me Jesus...” There are no fine phrases. No “church” words. We stop. We listen. We wait. Maybe tears come. Maybe we hear His voice. Maybe we just sit in His presence. As long as our heart is occupied with God, whether in speech or in silence, that is enough.

Authentic, tender prayer that is developed in our quiet devotional time is preoccupation with God. Prayer is a conversation between you and the One who loves you. A conversation that flows naturally out of our heart. When our spirit connects with His. That’s really all that God ever asks of us. To just lovingly linger in His presence for awhile.


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Who Do You Trust?

 

Dear Friends,

We were in the very quaint little town of Fillmore that’s just about 30 minutes north of the San Fernando Valley. Like stepping into a time warp of long-ago Americana, we photographed buildings built in 1887 and explored their 100 year old hardware store, antique stores and small shops. And then she and I saw the pet store. Understand that the lovely lady is absolutely unable to pass by a pet store in case it has kittens that we can look at. The owner greeted us with a radiant smile as we came in the door. A woman in her late fifties but living somewhere in the past. A blend of 70's punk and 60's hippy. Pink spiky hair. No makeup. Embroidered peasant top and a long flowing tie-dyed crinkle skirt with well-worn Birkenstock sandals. The heavy pewter and turquoise pendents around her neck tinkled like wind chimes as she rushed to meet us. Her focus was on me and she danced (literally) over to stand right in front of me and looked up to study my face without saying anything for a few uncomfortable moments. She finally gushed, “You have the kindest eyes. What’s your sign?” I told her I was born in June and she fearfully leapt backwards and whirled away. 

Both hands flew up and clutched her pendents as if for supernatural protection against this now terrifying man. She turned with a look of horrifying pity to Rhianna and wailed, “Oh my dear, you must leave him and not have anything to do with him... He’s way too superficial and unreliable... Don’t ever trust him... He’s deceitful and unemotional... Gemini’s are completely incapable of having a relationship and will break your heart.” She told us she was an astrologer and even followed us out the door to the sidewalk as she went on and on about my astrologically negative characteristics. This was eye-opening for both of us because we had never realized what a horrible person I am. And now that the truth about me had finally been revealed, I of course completely understood why Rhianna insisted on calling me “Dr Evil” for the rest of the day. The next time we were in that quaint little town, a sign in the pet shop window said, “UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT” so we went in to see if they had any kittens to look at.

Astrology is one of the ancient practices of “divination” which is the art of interpreting events and future events by means of signs called “omens.” According to Biblical archaeologists, astrology originated in ancient Babylon (now Iraq) when the Chaldeans of Babylon concluded that the stars, sun and moon were gods, and by their position in the sky, these gods determined events here on earth. By the 4th century BC, it was believed that these ancient pagan gods also gave us our personality characteristics based on the position of the gods (sun, moon and stars) at the time of our birth and this “divination” is the basis of our astrological “zodiac sun sign” and modern day horoscope. But this belief in Astrology, that the essence of who we are, is not created by God, but by the alignment of pagan gods, is an abomination unto the Lord. God says point-blank: “Do not practice divination or fortune-telling.” Leviticus 19:26

The author of the book “Cults and the Occult” tells of an astrologer’s conference where the session leaders said that they had “spirit guides” to help them give their astrological readings. In Deuteronomy 18:9-14 we are given a list of occultist practices that are “an abomination to the Lord.” Among these practices are a Hebrew word translated as “witchcraft” which means one who predicts the future using the art of “divination.” Another occultist practice is the Hebrew word translated as “interprets omens” meaning one who reads from the signs (stars) and interprets their meaning (astrology). Astrology – the art of divination – is forbidden by God because it is an occultist practice. Horoscopes are an “abomination to the Lord.”

The current pandemic plague shut down our churches, reduced the worship service to a “TV program” and fewer and fewer people are watching. It’s also changing our engagement with the Word of God. As of the first week of June, adults who faithfully read their Bible had fallen from 27.8% to only 22.6%, representing some 13.1 million Americans while interest in New Age practices has significantly increased. Many in the younger generations have  turned away from trust in God and now put their faith in occultist practices. 

The most significant political movement today is Black Lives Matter which co-founder Patrisse Cullors has called a “spiritual movement.” Millennial generation Blacks are leaving behind the Christian faith of their parents and are turning to “Ifa” the African folk religion of the two BLM co-founders. Ifa is a Yoruba-based faith (aka SanterĂ­a and Voodoo) that worships the god Olodumare as their supreme being. But it’s not occultist practices or trust in astrology and New Age rituals that we need in this pandemic; research shows it’s a person’s relationship with Jesus and with the Bible that’s the single greatest influence on her or his overall spiritual health. Scripture engagement is associated with positive emotions in Bible readers. We tend to feel hopeful, peaceful, encouraged, comforted and loved by God when we read our Bible.

Like with all of life, we have a choice. We can trust in God or we can trust in the ancient belief of pagan gods. We can read our Bible and follow God or we can read our horoscope and follow the stars. But why would any of us want to start our day with an ancient superstition based on the position of “pagan gods” in the sky when we can start it with the Word of God?  Amen?


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

An Ancient/New Way To Read Your Bible

 

Dear Friends,

For years I wasted my time reading the Bible. Honestly. I’d start my day ramped up on home-ground Starbucks and speed-read through the day’s obligatory scriptures and then end my day in bed with the open Bible before me - the sacred words of scripture competing with stressful thoughts of the day replaying in my exhausted mind. I read my Bible like I read everything else. It was my Protestant emphasis on Bible study. What I’d been told was that I should just read the Bible. Absorb it. Understand it. Know it. I was told that I would be sanctified and made holy by reading the Word. So I read the Word. I even at one point in my life read the Bible cover to cover. Every page. Every word. Did that make me any holier? I wish! 

Did reading the Word make me a better Christian? Well, it made me a more knowledgeable Christian. It definitely made me into a better pastor/teacher. So maybe reading my Bible wasn’t a complete waste of time, but it wasn’t making me into a better Christian. That’s because “reading and understanding” doesn’t necessarily mean you are “becoming and doing.” Jesus didn’t say read about Me. He said follow Me.

Then in my study of Christian history, I became drawn to the devotional life of the ancient Christians and early monastics and began to incorporate some of their practices including the way of reading scriptures called Lectio Divina (lex-SEE-oh dah-VEE-nah) that was first mentioned in 2nd century writings. For those of us today, incorporating monastic practices in our day-to-day lives may seem eccentric, but in ancient Christianity, a “monastic” was any man or woman who was seriously living out their faith. At a time when the coronavirus has closed church doors and turned many faithful Christians into “monastic hermits,” you might want to consider the practice of Lectio Divina. That’s a Latin phrase meaning “sacred reading” and it’s a way to read God’s Word that takes you into His presence, changes your life and strengthens your faith during this time of pandemic fears and uncertainties when we need Him most. These are the four steps of Lectio Divina:

I Lectio – reading

We find a portion of scripture and begin to slowly read it out loud. Reading out loud brings it from our head to our mouth and from our mouth to our heart. We read it once. And we read it again. We read it until we are stopped by a word or phrase that speaks to us. A word that calls to us. A word that comforts us. A word that unnerves and challenges us. A word that convicts us. It’s as if the Holy Spirit has taken an invisible yellow highlighter and has emphasized a word that is ours to ponder. We may not know why this word or phrase has stopped us, but we trust in the Holy Spirit and we pay attention to what He is showing us.

II Meditatio – meditation

For those of us Protestants who get ecclesiastical heart-burn at the mere mention of meditation, we can instead “ponder” the scripture–meaning that we can just sit-a-spell and think about it. Someone said, “We long to be filled with God but we cannot because we are already too full of ourselves.” Meditation on God’s Word empties us of ourselves and makes room for the Holy Spirit. Meditation is taking that word or phase that the Holy Spirit highlighted for you and gently repeating it. Thinking about it. Allowing it to trigger thoughts and memories. Maybe victories and maybe long-forgotten hurts. Maybe successes and maybe failures. The Holy Spirit is at work. He is the Great Counselor. He is the one taking you down this path of memories. It’s through this second step of meditation that God’s Word in the Bible becomes His Word for us. For this moment in time. His Word for that specific memory. For that hurt. For that specific sin. His Word for you. Right now.

III Oratio – prayer

We’ve been meditating on the word or phrase that the Holy Spirit gave us. We’ve begun to go down the path lead by the Holy Spirit and we’ve encountered memories and thoughts. And now we talk to God about it. The Holy Spirit has been leading us to this place and we find ourselves praying with a different heart. Our conversation with God is different now. We allow God to take this word, this phrase and now use it to change us. And as we pray, our ears are open and now we may hear that small, still Voice.

IV Contemplatio – contemplation

We have come into the presence of God and we simply rest there. When we come into the holy of holies, it’s not a place to do something. It’s a place to be. Entering that contemplative place with God is the highest expression of our spiritual life. It is here that spiritually we are fully awake and alive. Our spirit has been intertwined with the Holy Spirit. We are in the presence of the One who is the source of all love. We are in the presence of the Creator of the Universe. We are in His embrace. And time slows down...

Sacred reading is an ancient spiritual practice that is meant to be a life-changing conversation with God. It is where the Holy Spirit takes God’s Word and intersects our life with His truth. We meditate on His Word and then when we pray, we leave behind our normal list of requests and our prayers now reflect our innermost desire to be changed according to His will. And now we enter that contemplative place – the holy of holies – where we linger in His presence and simply rest awhile with Him. Just God and us.  Amen?


To view a printable PDF file of a Quick Guide to Lectio Divina that can be placed in your Bible, click HERE

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Do You Wear A Cross?


Dear Friends,

A few years ago, Rhianna and I took her mom to Solvang for her mom’s birthday. There are a handful of stores we always visit in that quaint little Danish town and one of our favorites is the one with all the cuckoo clocks and jewelry. We’ve made a few purchases of jewelry from this store over the years, and Rhianna's mom has added some of their expensive cuckoo clocks to her collection. This would be the first time we'd been in the store since the original owners had recently sold it. But we stopped in front of the store, looked at the window display, looked back at each other, and were stunned. (See photo) It was a statue of a cross with a demonic-looking, dragon-like creature clinging to it. Talons digging into the cross. Tail wrapped around it. Black wings enfolding it as if territorially proclaiming possession over it. Eyes flashing. The artist’s depiction of evil triumphing and claiming victory over the cross of Christ. If you know Rhianna, you know she’s a shy introvert who will walk a mile out of her way to avoid a confrontation. But she walked into the store and politely told the salesperson she would like to see the owner. He began to give her an excuse and she told him "Now." He took one look at her face, saw that the polite smile hadn't quite reached her eyes and he quickly scurried off to fetch the owner. 

She was extraordinarily nice, polite, firm, and articulate. She told the new owner how much we loved his store but that the statue in the window would be offensive and upsetting to Christians who love the cross and what it represents. The owner told her that he was sorry if it did but that he didn’t see anything wrong with the statue. As the conversation continued, it soon became clear that the atheist owner and his husband/business partner liked the symbolism of evil prevailing over the cross of Christ. We no longer shop in this store.

I wear a cross that my father gave me many decades ago. It’s made from iron horseshoe nails and large enough that people can’t miss it. It’s inspired many wonderful conversations about faith but lately it’s triggered hatred. We entered a Tuesday Morning store and were cheerfully greeted by the 20-something transgender clerk. She had a woman’s voice but her outward appearance was female/ male. When we were ready to check out, I found the clerk stocking shelves and let her know we were ready. She politely apologized for keeping us waiting but as she turned and looked at me, her face hardened when she saw my cross and she glared at me. We were polite to her and she was rude, insulting and sarcastic to us during the checkout process. The people of the cross are the people she hates. 

I used to shop at Trader Joe’s in Granada Hills. But there were times that the millennial generation clerks were warm, friendly and helpful and times that they were openly hostile. I puzzled about this until I noticed that sometimes it was the same clerks that treated me nicely one time and rudely the next, and I came to realize that my treatment at Trader Joe’s depended on if my cross was visible or if a jacket was covering it up. A millennial friend of mine told me he keeps his Christian faith a secret because nearly all in his generation “hate Christians.” I definitely saw that at Trader Joe’s. The cross that symbolized my Christian faith was offensive.

But before I get too upset about this, I need to  remember that nothing’s changed from 2,000 years ago. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 That word translated as foolishness is the Greek word “moria”- a strong word meaning that something is “worthy of scorn.” The Gospel message then and now is scorned and hated by those unbelievers who are “headed for destruction” as the NLT translates it. But to you and me, the message of the cross is the good news of the saving power of God. I wear my cross not to flaunt my faith but because there is nothing more important to me personally than the message of the cross. My faith is intrinsic to who I am and my cross reminds me that we are all ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. It reminds me that I need to not just believe like a Christian but to behave like a Christian. And then, when my words or attitude to others are unchristlike, my cross convicts me and brings instant repentance.

Franklin Graham said that Christians in the United States are not far from seeing a high level of violent persecution because of their faith and we’re seeing today’s liberal “cancel culture” attacking Christians who have experienced lost jobs, harassment, physical beatings and death threats for no other reason than being a follower of Jesus Christ. The culture and Marxist politics of “woke” progressive liberalism promote the hatred of Christians and Black Lives Matter protesters have been destroying statues of Jesus and firebombing our Nation’s churches. I know Christians who have fearfully pried the ICHTHYS (fish symbol) off the SUV and put their cross back in the jewelry box. Many are afraid or are uncomfortable with the hatred and rudeness from progressive liberals (what I’ve experienced at Trader Joe’s) and are hiding their Christian symbols. Some deny their faith like Peter, Luke 22:54-62 and they may want to read the words of Jesus: “Everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:33
 
I won’t receive heavenly “points” for wearing my cross, but if the reason for not wearing one is that I’m ashamed to do so, then I am in trouble. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38 And so...that’s why I wear a cross.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

10 Ways To Boost Your Mood!


Dear Friends,

Last week I wrote about the organic disease of chronic depression, but all of us are suffering from some depression and sadness at the isolation and changes we are experiencing during this pandemic. Dr Lois Dobbs PHD, a Christian Clinical Psychologist, says that mild depression is a “normal and common response to the distressing events in our world right now and to not feel depressed and saddened is the abnormal response.” Based on material published by the American Association of Christian Counselors (I’ve been a member since 1999), here are ten suggestions on how you can boost your mood and not get stuck in feelings of depression:

Meditate on God. Reading the praise and thanksgiving Psalms can boost your degree of gratitude and remind you of God’s creation and love. It can also enable you to see that God created every emotion, and that we do not have to hide ours from Him; He always understands. Even five minutes with Him can set the tone of your day. Longer time reading, meditating and reflecting is even more helpful! Thank God for His strength, His power, His wisdom for your day. Remind yourself of His promise that He gives us “love, power, and a sound mind” and that the “spirit of fear” is from the enemy. Your future is in His Hands!

Listen to Music. Lyrical, gentle music, choral or instrumental, is especially helpful, such as hymns and praise and worship music. Gregorian Chant is very healing.

Pray. God inclines His ear and listens to your prayers. Psalm 116:1-2 ESV Tell Him what you’re struggling with and receive His peace. Philippians 4:6-7 And praying for others takes the focus off us and brings the power of God into their lives.

Start Your Day Right. I wake up and pray: “Open my lips Lord that my mouth shall proclaim forth Your praise.” (Psalm 51:15) I stand up, roll my shoulders to release the kinks, cross myself in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, thank God for my night’s rest and give Him glory for the new day. While I’m making the bed I’ll pray a short prayer such as, “Here I am Lord all devoted to Thee, make me according to the desires of Your Heart.” Get dressed, feed the cats and fill my Goofy mug with coffee. Your ritual will and should be different than mine, but having a healthy morning ritual that turns your heart and mind to God is perhaps one of the most important things you can do to positively impact your entire day.

Get Sunlight. Let the light in and get out in the light! Open your curtains and blinds and expose yourself to a maximum amount of light, immediately upon arising. Let your skin and your soul absorb the light of the sun. Sunlight helps your whole sense of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being and Vitamin D is essential to a healthy body. Get outdoors and do chores, play, garden, walk or just sit-a-spell.

Eat, Exercise, Sleep. People who experience depression often seek self-comfort in high-sugar, high-fat foods, numb their minds with hours in front of the television or computer and then have trouble sleeping after a day of slothful inactivity. But healthy foods, plenty of exercise and adequate sleep will be the three most helpful things we can do in maintaining our body’s immune system. A healthy immune system will allow our body to better resist illness and disease and help it to recover more quickly if we do get ill. During this time of the pandemic, it is more important then ever to take good care of your body.

Read Books. Along with our body we need to take good care of our mind. Reading books stimulates and exercises the brain – watching television and videos slows down our brain and lulls it into a semi-conscious state. A university study showed that reading increases activity in the brain’s central sulcus which controls our motor skills. Medical studies have shown that for those of us who are older, reading stimulates the mind which increases memory and can slow down Alzheimer’s and dementia. Reading also transports us from living in a pandemic to another world where we become engaged in the story and in the lives and personalities of the characters.

Be Nice. Do Nice Things. Dr Dobbs suggests that you, “Do something nice or helpful for someone else, even when you don’t feel like it. This changes your perspective! The very act of accomplishing something nice for someone else gives you a feeling of coping and lends a new perspective. Sometimes we receive back appreciation, a bonus which adds an extra level in boosting our mood. Keep helping even if you don’t get thanked!”

Connect with People. Social isolation is one of the major causes of depression. God created us to be in relationship with others and for those who live alone, it may be challenging to connect with others – particularly with the closing of our churches. In the mid-70's one of the most popular commercials of all times was the AT&T and Bell Systems “Reach out and touch someone.” If you’re my age, you may still remember the jingle! During these days of social distancing, we may not be able to literally touch someone but we do so metaphorically when we connect with them by phone or computer. Take the time to call, write, text, email and connect with family and friends and you’ll bring smiles to your face and theirs. We can even “keep in touch with someone” simply by looking at their picture. Our loved ones come alive in their image. Connecting with others gets you “out of yourself” by breaking the cycle of morose introspection which often accompanies depression. 

It’ll Get Better. Perhaps the most important thing for all of us to do is to constantly remind our self that life will not stay like this and we need to trust in God for patience during this time. Reminding ourselves of the promises of God is the age-old remedy when life gets us down and we find ourselves tumbling into the pit of despair. And even if we do, there’s no state of mind we have fallen into that is too far for God to reach: “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” Psalm 40:1-2 NLT Can I get an AMEN to that?

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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