Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The 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 was able to say the line but he had slipped out of character and lost the harshness of the innkeeper.

“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 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.”
God incarnate. God the Son took on human flesh to take our place on the cross so that we can go instead to our heavenly home. 

The birth of Jesus is God’s perfect gift to us. Not just the gift of the Baby, but the offer of for-giveness and salvation. And then God steps back to see what we’re going to do with His gift.

Sadly, many reject Jesus and His gift of salvation and in doing so they reject God. And then there are “Christians” who have accepted the gift but do so with indifference. Their apathetic faith makes no room for the presence of God in their lives. To those, Jesus would say “ honor me with your lips but your hearts are far from me and you worship me in vain..” (Matt 15:8-9)

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

Your gift this year is lying in a manger.. and God is waiting to see how you will receive it...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Don't Let The Grinch Steal Your Christmas

Dear Friends,

The Grinch ain’t stealing MY Christmas!!  How The Grinch Stole Christmas is a Dr. Seuss book turned into a family movie. The Grinch steals all the Christmas presents and decorations from the village of Whoville in order to ruin Christmas for the Whos. To the Grinch’s surprise, instead of the people crying that their gifts were stolen, they are holding hands and singing! The Grinch discovered the true spirit of Christmas is family love and the joy that we have within each one of us. The real meaning of Christmas is revealed to be the goodness of each person and their love for others. Really? That’s what Christmas means? It’s not about the birth of Jesus?

Maybe a more accurate title of the book and movie would be How The Grinch Stole Christmas From Christians! Christmas comes from “Christ Mass” – meaning a mass or a service celebrating the birth of Christ. But for those who love the celebration of Christmas and are offended by Christ, the Grinch has become an acceptable symbolic substitute. We see Grinches on greeting cards, in retail store displays and in mailers.

Decades ago, people worked hard to make large plywood cut outs of the Nativity that they handpainted and dis-played in front of their house. But we seldom see Nativity scenes to-day. We see front yards with huge inflatable Grinches, Santas and snowmen. We see red and green lighted Grinches clinging to an LED lighted wire tree to convey the “true” meaning of Christmas.

The symbol of Christmas in America is still the Nativity. But the “grinches” in today’s society who are trying to secularize Christmas, have adopted the Grinch as a symbol of their redefined American “holiday.” And is it just me or does the Grinch look evil and demonic? Do I see little green horns? Hmmm. So let me understand this. Some retailers, liberal politicians and educators want to redefine Christmas and replace Christ with something that looks like a demon?

But the Grinch ain’t going to steal my Christmas! I love it when I go places during Advent with the girl I hang out with. Every time a clerk wishes us “Happy Holidays,” she will always immediately respond with “Merry Christmas.”  And each time she has done so, there was a look of relief on the clerk’s face and they said “Merry Christmas” back to her.

According to a Gallup poll, 96% of the people in America celebrate Christmas. Among the four percent who don't are Jewish, Muslim or Atheists and it’s only the Atheists who have become highly offended by the mention of Christ and Christmas. And all over America, Christians are being told they must say “Happy Holidays” in order to avoid accidently offending an Atheist? If Christians in America are becoming too timid and too fearful to wish each other a “Merry Christmas” is that why a smile is beginning to appear on the Grinch’s face?

Don’t let the Grinch steal YOUR Christmas! America celebrates Christmas. Every time you wish someone “Merry Christmas,” you are giving them permission to say it out loud themselves. Be bold and daring. Be a rebel. Go tell someone “Merry Christmas” today!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

God With Us

Dear Friends,

We don't need seminary or years of Bible College. We don't need stacks of religious books. We don't need to ask a Bible scholar. All we need in order to understand the “Theology of Christmas” is found in a little story by an anonymous author...

It was Christmas Eve and the family was preparing to go to church for the annual midnight service. The father of the household declined as usual saying that he would feel like a hypocrite. He told his family that he just could not make sense of the idea that God became a man. He said he would relax by the fire until their return.
Settling down in his easy chair, he began to read his newspaper. It had already begun to snow quite heavily. Suddenly he heard unusual thumps on the living room window. He thought someone was throwing snowballs and he went to the front door to investigate. He discovered that a flock of birds had become disoriented in the storm and were trying to find shelter through the lighted window. He immediately realized that the birds could not fly in the heavy snow and unless they found shelter, they would soon freeze to death.
Thinking about how he could help them, he thought of the barn where the children kept their pony. Returning to the house, he put on his heavy overcoat and snow boots. He made his way to the barn, threw open the wide door, and turned on the light. He tried to shoo them through the open door but they scattered in fear. He thought, “Food will bring them in” and returned to the house for some bread crumbs. He sprinkled a path of crumbs to the barn, but the birds were too confused to follow it. The snow was now sticking to the birds and beginning to weigh them down. He could think of no way to convince the birds to enter the warmth and safety of the old barn. He realized that in spite of his best efforts, the flock was doomed to die in the storm. “They think I am a strange creature,” he thought. “They won't follow me because they don't understand I am trying to save their lives. Oh, if I could only become a bird for a few minutes,” he thought. “Then I could make them understand...”
Just then the church bells began to ring out their glorious tidings of Christmas. As the man listened, he dropped to his knees in the middle of the snow storm and looking up said, “Father, I now understand why You did it.”

Christmas celebrates a point in time when the ancient  prophesies were fulfilled and God chose to manifest Himself in a human form. “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23)

God came to earth so that He could be with us in the human form of His Son Jesus Christ. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) When we look at the Son, we see the Father who cannot be seen. It was the Son, Jesus Christ, who came down to earth to lead us up to Heaven.

Why did God go to all this trouble? Because of His love for you! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) And, that's all the theology we’ll ever need to know!  Amen?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Do You Need a "Rescue List?"

Dear Friends,

There’s a story of an old country parson who was always filled with the joy of the Lord and unrelentingly thankful even during the worst of circumstances. That Saturday an unexpectedly huge snow storm swept over their town and they awoke Sunday morning to downed trees, no electrical power and collapsed roofs. As a few hardy parishioners gathered in the church for Sunday services they grumbled out loud that there was certainly nothing for the good reverend to be thankful about that morning. “MERCIFUL FATHER!” bellowed the parson, “WE COME INTO THY PRESENCE AND THANK THEE THAT NOT ALL DAYS ARE LIKE THIS ONE..!!”

Ephesians 5:20 tells us to “..give thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How do we remain thankful for all things in the middle of our own life-storms? When our circumstances have plunged us into the pit of despair, we can’t even remember anything to be thankful about!  And, that’s why we need a list.

When things are going well, we easily recall all our blessings that we so easily forget when times are tough. In challenging times, we might even find ourselves desperately searching for something good to hang on to but positive thoughts are elusive and gratitude is beyond our grasp. That’s why I wanted to share my list with you even though it’s really very personal. I keep it in my Bible. These are just some of the things for which I am most thankful. Some may sound spiritual to you and some you may think are just silly but they bring a smile to my face when I read these.

If my computer crashes, I have a “rescue disk” that will bring it back to life. If my day crashes, my “rescue list” will bring it back to life. A positive  perspective will be restored, my thankfulness will be re-booted and I will once again be operating in the joy of the Lord. I’m sharing my list with you in the hope you will be inspired to make your own list that will rescue you from the storms of life and fill your heart with gratitude to a gracious God.

What are those things that you are most thankful for right now? What brings a smile to your face? Write those down, tuck the list in your Bible and read it often. You might even want to obtain a small notebook and begin to journal all the things for which you are thankful.

Tomorrow is the day of Thanksgiving when the citizens of the United States of America have designated one day out of the year to be thankful. But the citizens of the Kingdom of God have 365 days out of the year to give thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Election is Over. God is in Control.

Dear Friends,

Unless a “chad” got hung-up someplace, today we may have a new president with a new vision for America or the same president with a renewed sense of purpose for our country. Only one thing’s for certain. Nothing has changed. Today America is in crisis. Billy Graham recently said, “When America’s leaders actively promote and legislate immorality, restrict the religious freedoms that our country was founded on, and are openly hostile to men and women of faith, then I believe we are ripe for God’s judgement.” 

Today there are forces of evil that are stalking us domestically and internationally, we are in a moral free-fall and we have just gone through the most divisive presidential campaign in memory. Foreign countries that once recognized the United States as the world’s super power are beginning to see us as the “Disunited States of America.” 

Last night I was reading a book on spiritual formation written by a Catholic priest. (Nearly all books on spiritual formation are written by priests or monastics which should give us Evangelicals some pause for thought...) And I came across a sentence that just stunned me in its directness, succinctness, simplicity and truth. The author wrote: “Our modern prophets begin to tell us that we cannot be fully American and fully Christian much longer.” Take a moment and digest that. Think about where we are today and how close to the truth that is.

I couldn’t help but to think that this prophecy should not be a discouraged acquiescence to the morally and spiritually bankrupt state of our nation but a call to action. If we American Christians love our nation, then we need to start acting like Christians. If our nation is to become the Reunited States of America, Christians need to first be united in prayer. We need to engage in deep intercessory prayer on our knees: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2) 

Too many of the men and women who are politically positioned to make decisions for our country have arrogantly refused to acknowledge God, and have rejected any dependency on His guidance and security for America. We must ask God for His forgiveness for this nation’s transgressions. If Billy Graham is correct, we need to pray that God will stay His hand of judgement. We need to ask for God’s mercy and grace. We need to pray that this country turns back to the God of our fathers.

This is a crucial hour in America and Christians of every tradition and denomination need to be joined in prayer. We have elected new leaders or reelected those who will either continue the nation’s moral and spiritual free-fall, or who will return to this country’s founding Christian principles where we can once again be a nation that stands together and proclaims, “In God We Trust.”

The election is over and if you find yourself either ecstatically happy or deeply discouraged with America’s choice for president, then you may have placed too much faith in a political “savior”. We need to realize that no matter who we place on the throne in the White House, God is still in control. And He’s listening to your prayers.  Amen?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shut Up and Listen

Dear Friends,

A couple of Sundays ago, during my morning prayer time, 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’ll call Denise and Bob. You don’t know them but I have a suspicion that you may know a “Denise” – most of have at some point in our lives. 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 one night 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 non-stop, 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 celebrity 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 when I’d prayed for her salvation but now my thoughts about her were becoming more critical than kind. I was feeling a sadness for Bob and thinking that because her only area of interest is her, just how dysfunctional and one-sided any relationship with her would be. I’m thinking 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 words like A.C.T.S. to remember “Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving & Supplication.” Prayer warriors and intercessors are lifted up to a place of honor as we covet their articulate extemporaneous prayers while we are far less comfortable with the quiet mystics among us who meditate on God’s word to hear His voice. 

And in America the “doctrine of prosperity” has leaked into and polluted our traditional theology and given rise to our practice of presenting our list of wants, special requests and demands to God as if He were a cosmic vending machine at the ready to do our bidding. 

The prophet Samuel said, “speak God for your servant is listening” and too often we seem to be saying, “Be quiet God, for your servant is speaking.” But God has always desired a two-way conversation between Creator and His creation and He has things He wants you to hear. Let’s just be quiet for awhile and listen.  Amen? 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Where Are You On The Zealous Scale?

Dear Friend,

Burger Wrapper – Rev 3:20
Beverage Cups – John 3:16
Milkshake Cups – Proverbs 3:5
Double-Double Wrapper – Nahum 1:7
Water Cups – John 14:6
French Fry Tray – Proverbs 24:16

Rhianna and I had just polished off a gourmet meal catered by In-N-Out. (Yes mom, I know their hamburgers have enough fat and cholesterol to drop a horse, but we really only go there a few times a year.) And so now I’m picking through the wrappings trying to spot the Bible verses. Did you know that In-N-Out was established by a Christian family and even today, every paper container has a Bible reference printed on it in tiny letters and numbers? There it was on the hamburger wrapper: Revelation 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Do we really know what is being said here? Well-meaning evangelists and pastors (including this one) have slyly lifted this verse out of context as we use it to encourage non-believers to open the door to Jesus and invite Him into their lives. But while this verse may apply to non-believers, the truth is that Jesus was not talking to them. Go get your Bible and read Revelation 3:14-22 for yourself. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here for you...

Jesus said there’s a closed door between you and Me and I’m waiting for you to invite Me in. And, our Lord is addressing this invitation to believers. To good church-going, believers. Folks like you and me. Christians who were once on fire for the Lord. Believers whose passion for God burned hotly in their spirit. The scriptures came alive for them and they were excited when God’s Word spoke to a specific circumstance or a situation they were struggling with. And then the fire cooled and the passion faded. Their Bible was no longer on the table by their chair, but lived in the back seat of the car where it could be easily found on a Sunday morning in the rush to church. And to apathetic Christians who have become comfortable in their complacency, the words of Jesus are graphic and direct. “..because you are lukewarm..I’m going to vomit you out of My mouth.” Rev 3:16.

Where are you on the “Zealous Scale”? Filled with a burning passion for the Lord with a constant desire to be in His presence? Or hearing the knock of Jesus trying to wake you out of a spiritual slumber before He spits you out? If you don’t like where you’re at, remember that Jesus is not the one who closes doors. And yes, Jesus can kick them open faster than a SWAT team on steroids, but that’s not how the Son of God works. He patiently waits. And he knocks every so often to remind you that He’s still there and waiting for you to reach out and turn the knob.

God allows us to keep the door to our own heart closed with the deadbolt snapped in place if that’s our choice. He will pursue us quietly and relentlessly all the while extending mercies and graces that we don’t deserve. In fact, many times we are not even aware of the favors He has granted us. That’s the mystery of God. Yet the mystery of us is the most puzzling of all. How are we able to remain so complacent in the face of God’s overwhelming love and His goodness to us?

Before Jesus reminds lukewarm church-goers that He’s waiting to be invited back into their lives, He says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” Rev 3:19. You know where you are on the “Zealous Scale.” Now, where do you need to be? Are you hearing a faint knocking sound? Reach out for that knob. Repent. Be Zealous. Are you not sure how to get there from here? Give me a call. We’ll go out for a burger and talk about it.  Amen?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

God's Shekinah

Dear Friend,

I wasn’t having a bad week. Really I wasn’t. But I was just feeling spiritually dry. For awhile my prayers had felt shallow and ineffective. I did all the things I know that “work” to bring me into God’s presence and instead of being filled with a spiritual joy, I just felt tired and worn out. I had tried various monastic disciplines and Christian practices that usually help to spiritually recharge my dry, empty soul but this time to no avail. 

Then God showed up on His own. I was in my study one morning working on a sermon while my dog Elysee slept beside my chair. I turned and saw that the morning sun had streamed through the window where a red, stained-glass cross hangs. It was as if God was saying to me, “I’m here with you.” The presence of God and His glory filled my house and I remembered the Story of the Shekinah.

Shekinah“The majestic presence or manifestation of God which has descended to dwell among men."

The Hebrew word “Shekinah” is found in the Bible but the “Story of the Shekinah” comes from mystical Judaism. The Jews returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian captivity to  find that King Solomon’s temple, where they had worshiped for 500 years, had been destroyed. The Persian king had conquered Babylonian, and given the Jews special permission to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. Their hope for a renewed civilization on their native soil was at an all time high. They worked hard to rebuild that once magnificent temple but the riches and splendor, available when the original temple was built, were no longer there. When the Jews saw their restored temple they wept in despair. The floors that once glowed with a gold-leaf overlay were now plain stone. The once glorious temple had lost its majestic opulence. As they wept, a dazzling, light-resplendent Presence descended. The Shekinah – God’s personal presence – filled their new humble, modest temple with glory. The people knew they were home and in God’s presence once again. The Shekinah faded out, but God’s glory stayed behind.

The word Shekinah is used to describe God’s illuminating and light-filled presence that brings an awareness of God to a time and a place where God is not expected to be. It’s when God shows up unexpectedly to encourage or affirm. It’s when in the midst of spiritual emptiness, the shadow of the cross glows in a dazzling, brilliant square of sunlight, and God says, “I’m here with you.”

We need the Story of the Shekinah to remind us that in the middle of our humble, modest, disorganized, cluttered, busy and exhausting life, God shows up. In the magnificent temple, the well-worn church building, the small, cramped apartment and in the back alley, God manifests His presence. In the places where we would least expect God to be, He says, “Here I am.” And, during our times of spiritual, dry emptiness, God reminds us that He has been there all along. In the Story of the Shekinah, when God’s presence filled the restored temple, the people lifted up their arms in praise. There is nothing other that we can do in His presence but to give Him our praise.  Amen?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Taking Up His Cross

Dear Friend,

On a Sunday morning in 1958 I was standing at the back of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. My heart was pounding wildly as I waited for the organist to begin the processional hymn which would be my cue to start slowly down the aisle. I was holding the cross and still remember well the weight and feel of the polished walnut pole and the heavy brass cross so shiny and bright that it seemed to cast a light of its own. Father Barnes stood behind me and behind him waited two older acolytes carrying the flags. Father Spicer-Smith, the candle bearers and the members of the adult choir made up the rest of the procession.  

This was my first service as an acolyte and I remember I was filled with a heady mixture of awe and joy along with some serious self-doubts. What a privilege to be allowed to serve God! And, Father Barnes had even trusted me to carry the cross my first day! And boy was I scared! What if half way down the aisle while carrying the cross, I tripped and fell! What if I turned the wrong way or forgot what to do during the service at the altar! After all, I was only nine years old and the youngest acolyte that my church had ever had. I was only a kid and the biggest responsibility I’d been trusted with was to clean my room! But Father Barnes had convinced both me and my parents of his faith that I could do the job. After 500+ services, dozens of weddings/funerals and after serving six ministers and two bishops, I had never tripped and never fallen. I had never turned the wrong way and I had never forgotten what to do. Even though as a youngster my faith in God was shaky, His gracious love was with me every time I took His cross in my hands and He never let me down!

Come, take up the cross, and follow Me.  Mark 10:21

Today my faith in God is no longer shaky and I certainly have wisdom and understanding in a greater degree than I had as a child. Yet still today I experience that same child-like awe and joy at serving the Lord on Sunday. I no longer take up a processional cross, but around my clerical collar I put on a heavy bronze cross that I wear over my heart. A cross that reminds me of God’s presence in my life. It bangs on my heart when I walk reminding me that as I stumble through life, God has never forsaken me. I have done everything to earn His wrath and done nothing to deserve or earn His grace and mercy. And looking back I see so clearly now His hand of grace upon me from when I first wrapped my hands around His cross as a small boy. 

The cross is the most powerful testimony of God’s love for us. Through the cross we have been restored and redeemed. When we pick up our own cross to bear and His cross, we find they are one and the same. The sins we carry on our own cross have already been nailed to His. Jesus said, “..come, take up the cross and follow Me.” When you take up His cross and carry out His will, your walk will be steady and true. His strong right hand will keep you from turning the wrong way and when you do stumble, He will keep you from falling. When you take up the cross of Jesus, He will never let you down.  AMEN?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Secret Language of a Christian

Avast me Hearties!
Shiver me timbers! ‘Tis a foul storm approaching that be sending ye to Davy Jones Locker! Arrgghh! Today, September 19th, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day which 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 Carribean ride at Disneyland and every September 19th I can thoroughly annoy my loved ones by talking like a pirate. Aye, me Beauty, whars me grog? 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.

Christian Jargon:
Kingdom, Ransom, Born Again, Confess, Sanctification, Lamb of God, Gospel, Trinity, Tribulation, Theology, Spirit, Redeem, Lord’s Supper, Salvation, Reconciliation, Ministry, Minister (as a verb: “to minister to someone”).
The Lord is working on my heart.
Washed in the blood of Jesus.
 She has a fire burning in her heart. 
Lost sheep straying from the fold.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit. 
Pray for a hedge of protection.
I’d like to share a burden on my heart with you.

While us 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 clubhouse doors and trying to get in. If you’ve  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 Jesus, through His sacrificial death upon the cross, paid the penalty for our sins. When we accept and believe in Jesus, than our relationship is 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 should remember to speak their language, not ours. When communicating the “Good News,” always try to think about what you are saying from the perspective of the person to whom you are speaking. Aye! When ye parley with yer Matey, speak smartly that they savvy or ye’ll be walking the plank!  Arrrr..!  
I mean, AMEN?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Taking Jesus With Us

Dear Friend,

For those of you close to my age, do you remember when “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon? That was July 20, 1969 and the recent death of Armstrong led me to the Internet as I reminisced about such an enormously important event in America’s history. Armstrong was the first on the moon and said: “One small step for (a) man, one giant step for mankind.” Then, Aldrin stepped onto the moon’s surface and both men spent the next 2 ½ hours walking and exploring with our Nation transfixed in awe as we watched the camera feed and listened to the live broadcast.

As I scanned the various published articles about the voyage of Apollo 11, I read something that I had not heard before. As soon as the lunar module had landed, and before Armstrong’s historic moment, something happened of even greater importance that was not broadcast. What we heard was Aldrin saying: “This is the lunar module pilot. I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.
“You have set Your glory in the heavens.. When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place.. Who are we that You are mindful of us.. human beings that You care for us.”  Psalm 8
In the radio silence that followed, listen to Aldrin describe what happened next: “In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the scripture, 'I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.' I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements."

Aldrin had wanted to broadcast the communion but NASA had refused for fear of lawsuits by atheists. Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas and his communion kit was prepared by his pastor. Webster Presbyterian possesses the chalice used on the Moon and commemorates the event each year on the Sunday closest to July 20. This astronaut – this man of God – took the Presence of Jesus Christ to the moon. The first supper served on the moon was the Lord’s Supper. Some of the first words spoken after the lunar landing were scripture – the words of Jesus from John 15:5 (underlined above) and also portions of Psalm 8.

Is there someplace we should be taking Jesus that we’ve never taken Him before? To our work? Our school? Our neighbor’s home? Our home?  Lord, forgive us when we’ve rushed off to go somewhere in our cluttered and chaotic lives and left You behind. For without You, we can do nothing...  AMEN?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Am I Dead Yet?

Dear Friends,

Every so often I'll get in the mail an envelope the size and shape of an invitation. The only thing on the envelope, other than my name and address, are these words printed in elegant script on the lower left hand corner:

Free Cremation Offer ~ Details Inside 

I've never read the details. I’m always too scared to open the envelope. Why am I being offered free cremation services? I feel okay, but their offer makes me suspicious because I've been wrong about my health before. Do they know something about my current state of being that I'm in denial about? I'm fearful they could be right. But then again, if I was in immediate need of their cremation services, wouldn't a loved one be telling me that I was starting to stink?

I don't want what I'm about to say to sound harsh, so let me put this in Biblical language. Sometimes one of the most loving things a person can do for you is to tell you when thou doest stinketh. Because even us living believers can become a little odoriferous when we’ve stepped off the path of righteousness. When we mess up and something in our life starts to stink, we may need to hear what scripture calls a “fitly spoken word.” Only an emotional masochist would actually enjoy hearing criticism about themselves, but a wise man or woman welcomes a word that gives them an opportunity for a needed correction. King Solomon said it like this: "Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket. To one who listens, valid criticism is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry."  (Proverbs 25:11-12 NLT)

Solomon likens valid criticism to a precious gift that is of great value to one who listens. But truly sometimes this is a gift that's more difficult to give than to receive. Yes, he or she did indeed do something that stinketh. And we can err in two directions.  We can lash out in an anger that either immediately closes the spirit of the person we are trying to reach or escalates the issue into a hurtful argument. Or we can err by turning away, getting quiet, and withdrawing. Our irritation – frustration – annoyance – anger is carefully packed away into that secret place where we have always stuffed our anger and hurts. But in that emotional cesspool, those repressed feelings always seem to bubble back up to the surface and become "passive-aggressive anger." And when a resentful, negative bitterness becomes hooked into our soul, we become sickened spiritually.
Speak the truth in love...Eph 4:15

Paul writes that mature believers should “speak the truth in love to each other in order that they may grow in every way more and more like Christ.” (Eph 4:15) When a loved one’s behavior begins to stink, we need to be truthful and tell them that. And we also need to put a bow on it. We need to gift-wrap our words in such a loving, Christ-like manner that they receive our fitly spoken words as the precious gift that they are. When truth is told and received in love, than both giver and receiver grow in every way more and more like Christ. 

Let our prayer today be that our loved ones always lovingly tell us when our behavior doest stinketh.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Your Good Shepherd

Dear Friend,

Last Sunday we opened our worship service by reading Psalm 23. Because that Psalm is so often read at memorial and funeral services, seeing and hearing the familiar words can evoke a cloud of memories – some from long ago and perhaps some still painfully recent. And if we rush on through  this psalm with thoughts from our past, we may miss what God is wanting us to hear today.

We may either get stuck on or gloss over the words: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” But the words “shadow of death” are translated from one compound Hebrew word meaning a place of “intensely thick darkness.” It means a place of terror, calamity and despair. We will walk through the valley of death just one time in our lives, but we walk through that dark and dreadful valley of despair many times. We walk through that valley when we have experienced that seemingly unbearable loss of a loved one – when that relationship ends through abandonment, divorce or death. We walk through that valley when our heart breaks for our children and grandchildren. We walk though that valley when we get the call from the doctor’s office. We walk through that valley when the unthinkable happens. But no matter how many times we walk through the valley, we walk not alone. “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)

I am the Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
John 10:11

We were reminded last Sunday that one of our traditional Christian beliefs is the Doctrine of Incarnation. We may never have used those exact words but we know that Jesus is the Son of God – the Savior – the Word – the I AM. The Good Shepherd. That’s good sound theology to which we can all say “amen.” But the best part can be the most difficult for us to really get: Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my shepherd!” Jesus is not just the Shepherd, He’s YOUR Shepherd. This is almost just too big for us to wrap our brain around. God created the Universe and then He created our World. And He created YOU. And then He told you that He will be your Shepherd. The Almighty God who created the Heavens and Earth has made YOU the object of His concern and care!

Jesus has chosen you; He calls you by name; He knows you; He provides for you; He gives you rest while He protects you. He gives you eternal life and no one can snatch you out of His hand! (John 10) And, He invites you to dwell in His house – in His presence – forever. (Psalm 23:6) In His presence, you have His provision and protection and you shall not want because you’ll have all you need. The good Shepherd is YOUR good Shepherd, and that’s the most amazing blessing of all..!  AMEN?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fear Not Tomorow

Dear Friend,

I’ve been singing a new song lately called FEAR NOT TOMORROW.  It’s a great song but right now it’s pretty obscure and hard to find. It was written by a worship leader in a church which released it on an album of their own music. Maybe one Sunday we’ll need to learn this wonderful song to help make it a little less obscure!  The chorus goes: “Fear not tomorrow, God is already there...”  Isn’t it funny how just a few words of God’s truth can change your whole perspective on something?  We can look at our past and so clearly see that God was working in our yesterday, but we forget that our timeless God is already working in our tomorrow.

And, have you noticed how it’s never our past that scares us, it’s always our future?  It’s never the known of our yesterday that weakens our knees, it’s always the unknown of tomorrow.  And yet is there really anything to fear about your tomorrow when God is already sitting there and just waiting for you to show up?
Wise Words:“The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear. It is the storm within which endangers him, not the storm without.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
We can struggle to admit our fears out of a “fear” that to do so would somehow reveal a weak and untidy Christian faith. But fear is a normal human response to perceived danger. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was distressed and in agony over His impending death, and God responded by sending an angel to strengthen His Son’s faith. In His despair, Jesus experienced both the human emotion of fear and divinely strengthened faith. And, we too can experience that tension between fear and faith when we face our future. Fear creates dark clouds of doubt that make it difficult to see the presence of God. But faith overcomes fear and we fear not our tomorrow, for God is already there.
One night a house caught fire and a young boy escaped the flames by crawling out of his bedroom window and onto the roof. The rest of the family had already escaped through the front door, and now the father was on the front lawn calling to his son to jump off the roof and into his arms. The boy was terrified. With the swirling smoke and the darkness of the night, he was unable to see past the edge of the roof. “Jump!” yelled the father. “I can’t!” screamed the boy, “I can’t see you!!” The father replied, “I know son, but I can see you and that’s all that matters.” And the boy jumped safely into his father’s arms.
Even when the darkness of fear swirls around us, our faith is what reveals the unseen presence of God. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)  Let’s jump into our future with faith knowing that God is already waiting for us with open arms.  AMEN?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Would Jesus Do Today?

Dear Friend,

Do you remember when it was cool for Christians to wear wristbands that said WWJD? The initials stood for the words, “What Would Jesus Do?” and that was a movement in the late 1990's to encourage Christians to not just believe in Jesus but to act like Jesus. In 1896, a Congregationalist preacher, Charles Sheldon, wrote a book called IN HIS STEPS – What Would Jesus Do?   That book was a call to Christians to show their faith as an outward action toward others and sparked the WWJD? movement in our own generation. 

That crusade in the '90's was the rage among youth groups and encouraged Christians of all ages to do what Jesus would do and treat others with the love of Jesus. But the excitement to follow Jesus has faded in many churches today as we have allowed ourselves over the past decade to be reshaped by secular society. And in doing so, the body of Christ is turning our back on God and we are marginalizing our own faith.

Wise Words:
“Christians who permit themselves to be shaped by secular culture 
are guilty, not only of betraying God, 
but of losing their own true selves.”
 W. Paul Jones
Professor, Theologian, Monk.

When we give ourselves over completely and fully to the Holy Spirit, we are motivated by the love of God and that love is manifested toward others. Our Christian faith should be clearly visible in our life and our lifestyle. A Christian lifestyle of good works toward others is the consequence of the state of grace.  Our good works is the evidence of the “Fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-23) in our lives. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus describes good works as the fruit that comes from the good treasure we have stored up in our heart by God’s grace. If someone were to inspect the fruit produced by your faith, what would they see?  

Some of us today may be too old, too cranky or too vain to wear a plastic bracelet that says WWJD? and I admit to being two out of the three. And even in the 1990's when the bracelet was worn by the cool Christians, no one could ever accuse me of being one of the “cool” ones who followed fads and trends.

But, today the trend is for Christians to follow in the footsteps of secular culture and we’re walking in the wrong direction. We need to reverse that trend and start a fad that’s new all over again. The fad to follow in His footsteps and do what He would do! Take a moment and find a post-it or small piece of paper. Write WWJD? in large letters and post it on the bathroom mirror for a week or the refrigerator or maybe on the inside of your front door so that you’ll see it when you leave the house. Then let’s all together watch how this “new” fad to do “what Jesus would do” changes our lives, and be prepared to share some praise reports!  AMEN?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The AMEN Corner

Dear Friend,

Welcome to the first edition of our weekly newsletter, Amen Corner! This will be a very short and informal newsletter with stories, reminders, scripture, prayer requests, things to remember from last Sunday and things to look forward to for next Sunday.  When I say that this will be a “weekly” newsletter, please forgive me when it isn’t. 

I’ve been thinking that as we look forward each Sunday to worshiping the Lord and connecting with our church family, it can sometimes feel like a long time between Sundays. We can feel disconnected during the week, and at times we may even need a spiritual boost to keep us recharged and refreshed.  

Hopefully, the Amen Corner will help to keep us connected with each other at the mid-point in our week and maybe even refresh our souls with a spiritual boost of encouragement.  I was also thinking that for those in our congregation who, for distance or health reasons, find it difficult to come and worship with us every Sunday, Amen Corner may help them to remain connected with their church family.

Why did I call this the Amen Corner?  In the more “vocal” churches – some Pentecostal, Baptist, and African-American churches – the congregation shouts out words of encouragement as the pastor preaches: “AMEN!” “PREACH IT BROTHER!”  “GLORY!”  “YES! THAT’S RIGHT!”  And the “amen corner” is an area, usually near the pulpit, where the most vocal shouters sit together to lead the congregation in their encouraging responses.  This newsletter is your pastor’s “amen corner” where I will try my best to encourage you during your week and keep us connected between Sundays.  Can anyone give me an AMEN! to that??