Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Are You the One God Sent?

Dear Friends,

In the late ‘60's, I was 19 years old and driving back from Laguna Beach with my girlfriend. We were between Laguna and Newport when we came around a corner and saw a truck on its side in the middle of the two lane highway. All I could see was the bottom of the truck. The still spinning wheels indicated the accident had just happened. Traffic was light and no other vehicles were around. I stopped my car and ran to the cab of the truck. I could smell the leaking gasoline and saw smoke. Through the cracked windshield I could see the driver slumped against the door with blood on his face. I climbed on top of the cab, opened the door and yelled at the guy to get out but he was unconscious. My girlfriend screamed that the truck was on fire and I could feel the hot flames. 

He was a small slightly-built man and I was a big, strong kid so I was able to climb partially down into the truck and pull him up and out. I jumped to the ground, pulled him off the top of the truck into my arms and carried him over to the curb. A man was running from a nearby gas station with two fire extinguishers and we both put the fire out. I ran to my car to get my first aid kit and stopped the bleeding on the driver's forehead. That was when I realized he had been unconscious, not because of the severity of his injuries, but because of the amount of alcohol he had consumed. About five minutes later, the CHP and fire department came and the officer bruskly told the 19 year old hippie-looking kid with the beard to leave.

I got in my car and drove back to L.A. with my girlfriend giving me a severe tongue lashing for risking my life to save an old drunk. I was feeling bitter and let down. I had just saved a guy's life and not only were there no photographers to take my picture for the paper, but I had been pushed aside and told to leave by the CHP without a thank you. Not only was my heroism ignored but my girlfriend now thought I was just plain stupid. Naturally, it was soon after that we parted ways due to her insensitive incapacity for hero worship.

But my desire for recognition was out of my self-centered and egocentric immaturity. I know now that God never uses us for the purpose of heaping honor and glory on our heads.   But when we are willing, God will always use us to providentially change circumstances for His glory and make a difference in the lives of others. That man had made a poor choice to drink and drive, and as a result of his actions, he was about to meet a fiery death. But God  intervened by sending a 19 year old kid around the corner to intersect that man's life at a critical moment. And, if that kid had driven on by thinking “Poor guy..” the man may have died that day.

How many times when God has sent us to intersect with a person at a critical moment in time – when God has sent us to make a difference –  have we walked on by? When we have seen that person’s life spinning out of control. When he or she is spiritually comatose after a lifetime of drinking the elixir of the world. When he or she is hurt, wounded and unsure what to do. When God creates those circumstances where we round the corner and come across a person who God loves, do we instinctively respond? Or do we pass on by saying “Poor Guy.. too bad he's not a Christian. If he were he wouldn't be in this mess.” Or “I feel bad for her but I really don’t know what to say.” Or “I know I should stop and do something but I just don’t have the time.” When God's will is for us to intervene in a person's life, are we available?

We come around the corner and meet hurting people every day of our lives. They may not be trapped in an overturned vehicle, but they may be trapped in a life of sin or feeling that their world has turned upside down and, behind that smile, their heart is convulsing in pain. It's at that critical moment in their lives, that they need Jesus' love.

You'll be rounding a corner and there they will be. You'll ask a neighbor how they are and when they answer “...fine,” you hear hesitation in their voice. You'll be at the grocery store and notice that the clerk is very stressed out. You’ll ask her what she needs prayer for and see tears of gratitude come to her eyes as she tells you. We need to be available to minister instantly through the power of the Holy Spirit. Not for our glory but for God’s. Are you willing to let Him use you to make a difference in the life of one of His loved ones today?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Marinating in Jesus

Dear Friends,

It’s Barbecue Season! Some of us have been ordained by official family decree to be the authorized barbequer in our backyard. And, whether we're powered by propane or we're believers in briquettes, we can all agree that preparation and technique is the key to delicious mouth-watering barbecue.

Any backyard barbecue chef knows that one of the secrets to turning an ordinary piece of meat into a culinary masterpiece is the marinade. And, one day as I was writing out my favorite recipe for Tex-Mex BBQ, I realized that I too am "Marinating in Jesus!"

What a wonderful metaphor to describe the process known as sanctification! Sanctification begins the moment we accept Jesus into our hearts. It literally means to be set apart to a sacred purpose as we mature spiritually in divine grace. It is becoming more Christ-like in thought, word and deed. So how does that relate to cooking?

When you marinate a piece of meat you are adding flavor to it. But a tough old piece of meat can't absorb any of the flavoring. So, the first thing the marinade does is to break down the hard fibers of the meat until it becomes tender and absorbent.

Our human nature can resemble that old tough piece of meat! We live our lives within a protective framework woven from our past experiences of disappointments, hurts, and rejections. This protective shell insulates from further hurts but can hinder our relationship with God and with others. We become busy, anxious, troubled, temporal and distracted. We have no time for God and our heart can become hard and impenetrable. In the process of sanctification, the Holy Spirit must first bring us to a place where this tightly woven shell begins to break down and our hard hearts begin to soften.

See, our tough steak becomes tender and tasty only after the  hard fibers have been broken down by the marinade so that the transfer of flavor can begin. Now, like a thirsty sponge, the meat pulls the flavoring into every fiber, and our once plain steak becomes saturated with the surrounding liquid. The flavor of the marinade actually over-comes and overtakes the original flavor of the meat until each and every tender morsel takes on the characteristics of the marinade.

Under the power of the Holy Spirit, when our hard shell begins to crack and soften, the character and flavor of Jesus begins to flow into every fiber of our mortal being until we are saturated with the characteristics of our “Divine Marinade,” Jesus Christ.

How can we get more of Jesus in our lives?  Well, when we want that tough old steak to soften and take on the full characteristics of the marinade, we don't just dip a corner of the steak in the sauce. We fully immerse it! And we don't just immerse it for a few minutes! No way! We immerse it for many hours knowing that the longer it is immersed, the more tender and the more flavorful it will become!

When we spend time with Jesus our Savior, fully immersed in Him, we are saying, "Break down the walls surrounding my hard heart, O Lord." Immersed in Him, we find ourselves eagerly absorbing His will for our lives. And, immersed in Him we are inviting Him to fill every nook and cranny of our being.

As we marinate in Jesus, we take on His Godly characteristics until His "flavor" overcomes the natural characteristics of our flesh and we become fully saturated with His Glory! That's the process known as "sanctification." That's Marinating in Jesus!!  Amen?

Pastor John’s Favorite Tex-Mex Barbecue Recipe

1 ½ pounds of beef flank steaks
1 cup of Pace Picante Sauce
¼ cup of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of lemon or lime juice
2 cloves of garlic squeezed through a press

Poke holes all over both sides of flank steak with a fork.   
Throughly combine all the other ingredients to make the marinade.
Set aside ½ of the marinade in refrigerator to baste meat with.
Put beef and rest of the marinade in covered dish or tightly sealed zip-lock bag and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.  
Turn the meat over a couple of times while it's in the refrigerator.  
Barbeque meat over medium-hot coals basting frequently with the reserved marinade.  
To serve, slice across the grain in thin slices.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Good Old Days

Dear Friends,

One of my loved ones has been incessantly reminding me, and with considerable uncalled-for delight, that I have a birthday next week. She’s just too young to know that at some point in one’s life it’s best if birthdays, like certain personal medical procedures, are left unspoken about and politely ignored. So, I’d be too mortified to tell you how old I’ll be, but as I reminisce over my past 63 years, I can’t help but to remember with fondness, what us old-timers call the “Good Old Days.”

I am blessed to be a pastor who serves such a diverse church that to some of you, I’m young enough to be your son, and to others, I’m old enough to be your grandfather. That means to some of us, the good old days were in the 40's and 50's, and to others the good old days were in the 80's and 90's. (if you’re too young to remember when the first Star Wars came out just bear with me here...)

One of the neat things about summer was to be able to watch Sheriff John while eating your lunch.  For those of you who didn’t grow up in L.A. during the 50's, Sheriff John’s Lunch Brigade was a children’s television show that showed cartoons. He opened the show by leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance and he talked about respecting your parents, helping others, being courteous and the importance of good manners. Sheriff John had a glass of milk and a sandwich as he and all his viewers had lunch together. But first, he led us all in a prayer: “Heavenly Father, great and good. We thank Thee for our daily food. Bless us even as we pray. Guide us and keep us through this day.” (remember we’re talking about a secular tv show in the 50's!) Now think about the tv shows today.

When I was a boy, adults drank, had sex and did drugs. Not kids my age in elementary school. We knew about homosexuals but they stayed in their houses and we stayed in ours. We didn’t celebrate them in parades and honor them for their sexual practices as we do today. A recent study showed that children are being drawn to internet porn at age six and the majority of male teens are engaged in on-line sites where hate speech against women and minorities is pervasive. Frankie Avalon never sung a song glorifying the rape of a woman. It was different back then.

Even in urban L.A., five year old kids were able to go outside and play anywhere they wanted. Gangs, sexual assaults, kidnapping  shootings and pedophiles were almost non-existent in those days. We had no fear of our neighbors. We helped them. We were good kids and followed the rules.

John Fredricks gave me a Roy Roger’s coffee mug with Roy’s Rules: 

1) Be neat and clean. 
2) Be courteous and polite. 
3) Always obey your parents. 
4) Protect the weak and help them. 
5) Be brave and always be careful 
6) Study hard and learn all you can. 
7) Be kind to animals and take care of them. 
8) Eat all your food and never waste any. 
9) Love God and go to Sunday School. 
10) Always respect our flag and our country.

When I was a kid, no movie celebrities were looked up to and respected more than Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans (Pictured) .They had dedicated themselves to Jesus and lived their lives not like the Hollywood stars they were but like the committed Christians God called them to be.

Things were different back then because, like the apostle Paul, people were not ashamed of the Gospel. Men and women were bold and stood up for their Christian values and beliefs. Today, God still gives us opportunities to influence others that we deliberately ignore. Surveys show that most Christians pretend to not be “too religious” when around co-workers and neighbors to avoid “offending” people with their faith. 

But if there is going to be a change in our culture, it will start with the men and women of God – that means you and me. We are called to be unashamed of the Gospel and live it out with our speech and in our lifestyle. Just like in the Good Old Days. Amen?