Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving. Uniquely American; Undeniably Christian.

Dear Friends,

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

John Adams was the 2nd U.S. President and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams described the principles upon which our Country was founded and the Declaration of Independence was written: "The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite, and these Principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United.. Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System."

And by the time the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, Thanksgiving had been celebrated in America for over 150 years!

Thanksgiving began as a holy day, created by the first colonies of Christian Puritans (English Protestants) sincere in their desire to set aside one day each year especially to thank the Lord for His many blessings. These first settlers celebrated days of thanksgiving by acknowledging God as their Sovereign Provider thus providing a spiritual principle which has undergirded the foundation of our Nation.  

One of the earliest recorded celebrations occurred in 1564, after a small colony of French explorers established a settlement in, what today is, Florida. They journaled: “We sang a song of thanksgiving unto God, beseeching Him that it would please Him to continue His accustomed goodness towards us.”

In 1621, the Christian Pilgrims landed at Plymouth and immediately struck up a friendship with the Indians who taught them how to plant and harvest corn. The grateful Pilgrims declared a three day feast in December of 1621 to thank God and celebrate their blessings with their Indian friends. Ninety Wampanoag Indians joined the fifty Pilgrims for this Nation’s first Thanksgiving feast which  became an annual celebration in the colonies.

From these first days in our Nation's history, days of thanksgiving were also periodically called by government leaders. On September 25, 1789, one day after the First House of Representatives voted to recommend the First Amendment to the states for ratification, a proposal was made by the House to President Washington to “proclaim a day of thanksgiving for the many favors of Almighty God.”

A yearly holy day (holiday) was established by a Presidential Proclamation in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November, “..as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Congress later changed this day of celebration to the fourth Thursday in November.  

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thanks. Giving.

Dear Friends,

It was a November several years ago when God showed me something new about Thanksgiving. He showed me a word picture in my mind that resulted in a fundamental and permanent change to the way I view Thanksgiving today. At the risk of you thinking less of me than perhaps you already do, I’ll confess my small-mindedness when it came to my things. 

As a good church-goin’ Christian, I knew who the Giver of all good things was and I’d be the first one on my feet thanking God for all that He had given me. But my next shout would be, “..and it’s mine! Mine! Yes! It’s all MINE!!!” 

Thanksgiving was a time to do the yearly inventory and thank God for His generous provision. And that’s when God gave me the word picture. I had, of course, always seen the word as THANKSGIVING. But God showed me that the word needed to look like this...

The Kingdom Principle that God wanted me to see was that GIVING always follows THANKS. If November is the season of thanks, December is the season of giving. But, this giving is not about that which gets wrapped up and stuffed under a Christmas Tree. It’s about giving to others who have less than we do.

On a Thanksgiving Sunday at our church four years ago, I’ll never forget Kathleen just staring at the hospitality hour banquet table. It was literally bending under the weight of a full Thanksgiving feast and I thought she was staring at the table out of concern it would collapse. But she kinda shook her head and quietly said, “So much food... So many people don’t have enough... We really need to appreciate this...”

Just a few days before, I had been talking with a woman at work and asked her what she was thankful for that year. She told me that she wakes up everyday and thanks God for everything in her life. She then told me her story. “My mother died when I was fourteen and I had to take care of my five brothers and sisters.” She said, “I was the oldest so I had to be their mother and do their laundry and all the cooking.” I asked if there were other relatives who had helped her out. She said that there were only about 20 houses in the village where she lived in central Mexico and there was no other family. She told me that they lived in a one room house with two beds.  She said, “I cooked on the fire outside and I washed the clothes by taking them down to the creek and rubbing them on the rocks.” I said, “Did you have drinking water?” She laughed and said, “We did when I could get my brothers to carry it up from the creek.” She told me, “I’m thankful to God for so many things.” Tears filled her eyes and she said, “When I was fourteen I never dreamed that today I would own a house that had a washer and a stove and a bathroom inside it.”

Maria’s story opens our eyes and shows us what poverty still looks like in two-thirds of the world today. That’s why this Christmas we will once again be giving our Christmas offering to Living Water to dig a well that will supply fresh, clean drinking water in the name of Jesus. 

But even more than the donation to Living Water, Jesus may be showing you that you need to get personal with this. How do you see it now? 

Or like this? THANKS. GIVING. 

You may be thinking, I just don't personally know anyone who needs my help. If so, may God open your eyes and ears to the needs of others. There are people all around you who desperately need help. If your prayer is that God will lead you to someone who needs your help, I can guarantee that He will answer that prayer.

You may be thinking, I don't know what I could give to another person. I don't have much leftover that I can give. I can guarantee that if you pray that God will show you someone who has less than you, that prayer will also be answered.

Thanksgiving is the time to thank God for His bountiful provisions and blessings that He has so freely given us. It’s time for THANKS. GIVING. What will that look like for you this year?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Compassion. It's What We Do.

Dear Friends,

If one word could sum up our New Prosperity Gospel, it would be the word, “Compassion.” We typically misdefine this word to mean feelings of empathy and sympathy we have toward another’s suffering. But the definition of compassion is: “an awareness of another’s distress along with a desire to alleviate it.” Compassion is not just what we feel for others, it’s what we do for others. Compassion is the manifestation of our love for others. It’s holding the hand of someone in the hospital. It’s feeding the hungry. It’s helping the needy. It’s alleviating suffering. 

As I was preparing this issue of the AMEN Corner on Veterans Day, I found a photograph that shows true Compassion better than anything I could ever say to explain it.

When I worked for the City of Glendale back in the mid-90's, I used to occasionally go out to lunch with a friend of mine, Jim Anthony. We never talked about our faith but, by the words he used and the things he said, it was apparent that he was not a practicing Christian. One day we were walking from City Hall to a restaurant and taking a shortcut through the 7-Eleven parking lot. That’s when we saw the man lying next to the dumpster. An empty bottle was nearby and it was pretty clear he was just drunk and passed out. He was dressed in filthy clothing and there was the overwhelming stench of alcohol and urine. You could see where he had urinated in his clothing as he slept. I carefully stepped around him to avoid getting anything on the bottom of my shoes, but Jim walked over to the guy. 

It can be dangerous to try to wake up sleeping transients. Because of drugs, alcohol or an unbalanced mental state, some of these guys can wake up startled and violent. Police officers stand to one side and tap their nightstick on the sole of the person's shoe to wake them up. So I cringed when I saw Jim bend over the guy, put his hand on a filthy shoulder and start to gently shake him awake saying, "Hey.. are you OK?" Now another piece of information I want to give you about Jim is that he was the Chief of Police for the City of Glendale. 

The guy stirred awake and fell right back to sleep. I said to Jim, "Well he's OK..do you want to call for a black and white to pick him up?" He told me he did so I used my City radio to call police dispatch. We’d now been there for a few minutes and I was restless and hungry so I said, "OK.. Lets go." Jim gave me a funny look and told me, "We can't just leave him here like this." I said, "Well he sure isn't going anywhere until the car gets here" Jim was still looking at me as if he couldn't believe my insensitivity and said, "But what if he gets sick and aspirates his vomit or has a heart attack?" So we waited, talked and waited some more. 

We were dressed in suits and standing in the direct sun on a very hot summer day. But Jim was careful to stand so that the man’s face was in his shadow and shielded from the hot sun. At first I thought that Jim was just doing this because of some liability reason or out of a professional responsibility. But as I saw him periodically reach down and brush away the flies which were gathering around open sores on this man's face, I realized I wasn’t simply watching my friend the cop do his job. I was seeing a man of compassion caring for another and doing what he could to alleviate suffering. My non-Christian friend was showing me what true Christian compassion looks like.

In the Gospels, the word “compassion” is often used in conjunction with the ministry of Jesus. We read that He was moved with compassion for the sick person and healed them. He had compassion for the hungry and fed them..for the blind and touched them..for the lost and prayed for them. He had compassion for the sinners and forgave them. Jesus never walked by, shaking his head, saying, “Poor fellow, I sure do feel bad for him.” Whenever Jesus was moved to compassion, He immediately relieved their suffering – He met their need...

The soldier in the photo and my friend Jim show us what Christ-like compassion looks like. 1 Peter 3:8 tells us to “have compassion for one another.” Help others. Touch their lives with your love. Give generously and meet their needs. Remember that our treasures are stored up in heaven when we give to others. That’s the New Prosperity Gospel.  Amen?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bloated with Blessings? Try our 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. Perhaps the one good thing we can say about Halloween is that when it’s over and we step out of the darkness and into the light, we become even more appreciative of this season of Thanksgiving. 

At Sam’s Club where there were shelves stacked high with black and gray decorations, today there are harvest baskets with the brilliant, golden colors of autumn. Where there used to be gravestones and skeletons symbolizing death, I see Nativity sets signifying life. Where I saw animatronic demons with flashing red eyes, I now see the baby Jesus lying in the manger. What a contrast these images present as we transition into the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas!

Lord God as we enter into this time of Thanksgiving, hear our prayers. “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.”

“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,” we pray as we add another cute, red top to the twenty-five red tops we already have hanging in our closet.

“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 never use.

And in this season of giving thanks to God, He has been putting on my heart that I need 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 Evangelists 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 "$eed Faith" to the evangelist’s ministry to “activate” your “blessing” of material wealth.

But the NEW Prosperity Gospel (PG) 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 my things 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, go read Acts 2:41-47 paying special attention to verses 44-45.

The old Prosperity Gospel 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! (And that, my friends is real prosperity!!) 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.’” (NLT Luke 12:33; Luke 3:11; Acts 20:35)

Have you become swept up in a swirling tsunami of things? 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? Are you willing to do that?