Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cheaters Never Prosper

Dear Friends,

If you’d asked me two weeks ago if I knew what “Ashley Madison” was, I would have guessed a high-end line of women’s clothing or a perfume. I’m certain that most or all of you were (or still are) as clueless as I was. But I know now that Ashley Madison is the number one secret dating site for men and women cheating on their spouses and seeking to have an affair. Ashley Madison’s motto is, “Life is short. Have an affair.” The site guaranteed that it was completely anonymous but something happened last week. For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all. Luke 8:17 (NLT) 

This adultery site was hacked by moral crusaders who told the owner of the site to shut it down or they would release the personal information of every user. The owner of Ashley Madison refused and the resulting “data dump” on the internet by the hackers amounted to the largest release of personal information to date. It included email messages the users sent to each other, sexual fantasies, credit card financial transactions, home telephone numbers and addresses and the naked photos people sent to each other. It’s on the internet. It’s public. For the rest of the person’s life it’s out there for all to see. They’ve been digitally branded with the “scarlet letter A.”

Here’s the mind-boggling part. There were over 37 million accounts on Ashley Madison and about 18 million of those seeking an adulterous relationship live in America. To put that number into perspective, there are about 60 million married couples living in the United States. 

The Associated Press found that 15,000 people used their government computers to access the site and pay for their membership fees. The released names included those working in the Executive Office of the President, the U.S. Attorney Office, the Justice Department, the Pentagon and many worked in House and Senate offices. The highest rate of membership was in Washington DC and a security advisor warned that this data, now in the hands of foreign intelligence, will have an impact on national security and law enforcement. In the military, adultery is a crime punishable by court-martial, and 9,425 people used a military computer to access the site. These numbers are staggering and the devastation this will bring to millions of families in America is tragic.
My grandmother used to say, “Cheaters never prosper” but God said it first: “The crooked heart will not prosper; the lying tongue tumbles into trouble.” Proverbs 17:20 (NLT) Last week, 37 million people discovered the truth of this proverb. But God, in His grace and mercy, always provides an escape route out of the bondage of sin and Proverbs 28:13 (NLT) says: “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.” 

Those who repent will receive mercy and forgiveness from God, but for millions, the consequences they now must face will be life-changing. Economists have predicted that, based on 18 million marriages affected, there will be an estimated 2-3 million additional divorces and that may be a very low estimate. They forecast that the enormous impact of jobs lost, careers ruined, households divided and homes sold in divorce proceedings will have a significant effect on our Nation’s economy. But the biggest impact will be the emotional destruction. Families broken. Children devastated. Dreams shattered. Police are already reporting suicides related to the Ashley Madison leak. It is difficult to comprehend the full impact this will have on families, workplaces and the church.

A website for pastors published an article titled, “Pastors: Don’t Gloat Over Ashley Madison - the adulterer you condemn may be in your pews.” The church rule is that if you want to grow your church, you need to maintain a softened approach to sin so that you don’t offend anyone. But the consequences for not preaching against sin will be destructive for some churches. The names of church pastors, leaders, Sunday school teachers and elders will be among the millions of names released. Their churches will be devastated and some may be destroyed.
Our lesson to be learned from this is that there is no “secret sin.” God already knows. There is nothing you can ever do that’s hidden from His sight. Heb 4:13 (NIV) We all stand in judgement before Jesus some day and we’ll have to account for our sinful behavior. 2 Cor 5:10 God’s Word says that we will reap what we sow and last week, 37 million people found out about this Kingdom Principle the hard way. Galatians 6:7 

What are the seeds that you’re sowing today? You and I may not be on adultery web-sites but we know that we sin daily in thought, word and deed. And we need to be quick to repent. When we confess and repent of our sins, we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9 And he will remember our sins no more. Hebrews 10:17

The church must become emboldened through God’s word to preach against sin. When the woman caught in the sin of adultery was brought before Jesus, John 8:1-11, He responded to her with love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. Then in no uncertain terms, He told her to “Go and sin no more.” People sin. Pastors now need to stand before their church and do what Jesus did. Amen?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Slaying the Nitpicker

Dear Friends,

It was one of those humbling and embarrassing experiences. It was many decades ago that my step-daughter’s Christian elementary school called us at work. They had done a routine head check and found that she had lice. Being a do-it-yourself kind of guy, I just wanted to shave my step-daughter’s head and spray her all over with a can of Raid but her mother had a better idea. And that was when I found out that among the most unique jobs, there are actually professional nitpickers. Ours was a kindly older woman who was very compassionate and quickly eased our embarrassment. Special shampoos kill the lice but the nits are the tiny eggs of the lice that stick to the hair follicles. The nits have to be painstakingly picked off of each strand of hair with a special comb or they will hatch into lice and reinfect the person.
The word “nitpicker” originally meant someone who focused their attention on these tiny lice eggs, but in the late sixties, it became a slang term for someone who was overly concerned about inconsequential details. So a nitpicker is someone who criticizes other people by focusing on their tiny insignificant flaws. It’s someone who constantly carps about petty things in life and about other people. They just fuss over things to find fault with. (If it bothered you that I ended that last sentence with a preposition, you may be a grammarian nitpicker!) Nitpickers are the people whose sole pleasure seems to be in studying someone or something in the hope of finding a flaw. Nitpickers love to quarrel and argue just to prove they are right and the other person is wrong. Their goal is not to help or improve the other person but to make them wrong.

Nitpickers can be difficult people to have in your life. You may have a wife, husband, daughter or son who is a nitpicker. Maybe the nitpicker in your life is your parent or boss. Or maybe the unpleasant nitpicker is the one who stares back at you in the bathroom mirror. If we are the nitpicker, we may try to spin our nitpicking into something positive. We pridefully call it our “attention to detail” and describe ourselves as a “perfectionist.” But that is just simply our self-righteous way of spinning the sin of nitpicking into something that sounds respectable and praiseworthy. The word “nitpicking” is not in our Bible but grumbling, complaining and murmuring are listed as sins and nitpicking is the obsession to grumble, complain and murmur about the petty little things that others do.

What are some of the root causes of nitpicking? Our constant carping on another person can come from our unforgiveness that leads to bitterness, complaining and a hardness of heart toward another. We fall short of the grace of God when we let bitterness come between us and another person. Hebrews 12:14-15. Nitpicking comes from prideful thinking. You can only criticize another as long as you think you’re better than they are. Nitpicking can also come from a lack of spiritual maturity. When we bicker and quarrel and let loose the bitter nitpicky condemnations of others, we are behaving like those do not belong to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 3:3

The sin of nitpicking, is destructive to our walk with the Lord and destructive to our witness as a Christian. You can’t be operating in the will of God and manifesting His grace to others while you’re digging down in their lives to do petty faultfinding. Nitpickers obsessively seek to discover what is wrong with another person. In contrast, Christians have a passion to discover what is right with another person. Christians who manifest the grace of God, will pick through the brokenness and dysfunction in the life of another person in order to seek out the good. People of grace will always seek to buildup, edify and encourage one another.

We can’t change others, but with God we can change ourselves. If the nitpicker in your life is the one you see in your bathroom mirror, you can slay the nitpicker. We can overcome our critical spirit by firmly rebuking in the name of Jesus every time we feel that tendency coming on to engage in petty fault finding. We need to be the light in our families and in our relationships with others. Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matt 5:16 And in order for us to be the light, we need to guard our heart and words and become the messengers of God’s grace. Amen?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Free Hugs

Dear Friends,

It happened just last Thursday during one of the recent thunderstorms in Southern California. High school sweethearts Dylan Corliss and Lexie Varga were walking hand-in-hand on a tree-lined street in Claremont. They were on their way to get a burger when they were struck by a bolt of lightning. Dylan said, “Suddenly out of nowhere, we just felt like we were getting hit over the head and shoved to the ground with a big flash and explosion sound.” Dylan woke up curled in a ball three feet from  where Lexie had fallen. The lightning hit Dylan in the back of the head and the electricity transferred  through his arm into Lexie before exiting through her foot. They felt a “tingling” all over their bodies but were otherwise unhurt and they continued on to get the hamburgers. When they got home, their families insisted they go to the hospital. The ER doctor said that because they were holding hands, the force of the electrical energy was able to dissipate between the two bodies and prevented  a serious injury. The doctor said that the only reason the teenage couple was still alive may have been because they were holding hands.

The next day, Friday, I was walking along Carpinteria Beach holding hands with my own sweetheart. It was a gorgeous day at the beach. A nice, low tide with calm, shallow waves made for easy walking on the hard-packed sand at the water’s edge. A marine layer of clouds had courteously kept the temperature to a comfortable 65 degrees. The overcast skies had discouraged the usual crowd of beach-goers and there were fewer people and more shorebirds on the sand. I saw a young couple with a small child walking along. Both were walking with heads down and focused on their phones. Both appeared to be texting. They were oblivious to each other, to their son and to the beautiful surroundings as they walked on the beach. I felt sad for them. They were not together on the beach that day, and I wondered how long they would be together as a couple. A few miles later, we came across another couple who looked to be in their seventies. They were holding hands, walking closely together and thoroughly enjoying their day. They stopped to watch two large brown birds who were poking their long curved beaks into the wet sand to look for lunch. They laughed at the bird’s antics. It was apparent that they had been walking hand-in-hand through life for many years and that was why they were still together.

Holding hands may not save your life in a lightning storm but it may save relationships. We are wired by God to connect with one another through touch and yet even the very thought of that is scary to some. A psychologist said recently that, “We have become a touch-phobic (American) society. We don’t touch strangers or even friends.” In Southern European, Mid-Eastern and Latin America cultures, affectionate touching between friends is normal. Women friends walk hand-in-hand and even men walk with their arm over a friend’s shoulder. Hugging and kissing are the norm when greeting one another. 

But in America, we get nervous when someone stands closer than five feet and a one second handshake is an adequate greeting. One outcome of our rapidly changing culture in America is the demise of the friendly hug between two acquaintances. Today, men don’t hug other men for fear of appearing gay. And a man doesn’t greet a woman with a hug out of fear that she’ll snap open her purse to grab the pepper spray.

A Christian Psychologist once said that, “The persistent cry of the human heart is to hug me and hold me close.” Many people today are over-whelmed with feelings of loneliness. A survey showed that 60% of married people experience loneliness. Many struggle with depression, despair and discouragement. Young and old can feel abandoned and rejected by family and friends and they walk through their days alone and forgotten.

Touch plays a critical part in healing those psychological and emotional wounds. We communicate and bond through touch. Our comfort level with touch is determined early on. If mom and dad didn’t hug and hold us in the first three years of our life, we will become anxious and stiffen up if someone hugs or touches us today. If hugs were lacking in our family culture, we are fearful of the hugs that cement warm, caring relationships. If we were not lovingly touched as a child, we can recoil at the healing touch of another person. And sadly, what we need the most, is what we have been taught to not accept. It’s no different when we come to church. A recent survey even showed that atheists/agnostics touch more than “religious types.” But if Jesus came to our church, He would be embracing people. 

Maybe during our hospitality time after church we all need to be holding a "FREE HUGS" sign, because the church today is filled with people who need one. If you need a hug, then give someone a hug this Sunday. Because, every time you give a hug, you get one back. Amen?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Communion is a Family Meal

Dear Friends,

I am so grateful that I was raised in the mid-20th century when two parent families were the “norm.” In our middle-class home, my dad worked and my mom raised us kids, sewed my sister’s dresses, took care of the house, made dinner and even baked pies and cakes for desert every night. Our family ate dinner together at the table every night. No excuses. No exceptions. The only time I can remember being in my room during dinner was that time when I was being punished. Okay, that may have happened more than once. We would take turns saying grace before the meal. Then we would eat and talk. My dad would tell us about his day at work, my mom would talk about her day and we kids would talk about what happened at school. We often played word games. “Minister’s Cat”, the “Animal Name” game and the “Celebrity Name” game were favorites. We connected and bonded as a family over those nightly meals. 

Later on, when we kids had become “grown up” and moved out, we always returned to my mom and dad’s table for holidays, birthdays and sometimes for no reason other than to reconnect with our family. We ate, laughed, annoyed each other, teased, shared and still played our three favorite word games. If we were getting serious about anyone we were dating, they would be invited to a family dinner and were subjected without mercy or pity to the Minister’s Cat or the Animal game. How well they “played” with and interacted with our family would make or break a relationship.

What was “normal” when I was growing up is now considered to be “quaint and old-fashioned.” In the sixties, 73% of children lived with both parents. Today, only 46% of our nation’s children do. In the sixties, 80% of married women with children were “stay-at-home” moms. We have seen a complete reversal of that family dynamic today and 80% of women with children are now working in jobs outside the home. Moms come home worn out from their day and are often up late taking care of family, laundry, helping with homework and a dozen other necessary things. In busy families, dinners are hurried through and too often consist of something picked up at a fast food drive-through window. Ten years ago, only about 25% of families ate their meals together, but that number is increasing, and today more and more parents are seeing how very important it is for the family to eat dinner together.
Family meals are a blessing to be received and that’s why God drew us to His table for fellowship with Him. But it was rough-going at first. The disciples of Jesus were confused, upset and angry at what He had just told them. Jesus invited them to consume Him so that they would be made one with God! Did Jesus mean that literally or metaphorically? Jesus said that He was the living bread that had been sent from Heaven. He said that when we believe in Him and eat of this living bread, we will have eternal life. John 6:47-51

Jesus said that “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood” will live within Him and He will live within us. John 6:56. That made no sense to His disciples. Was Jesus talking about cannibalism when He said that they would consume His flesh and blood? 

A year later, Jesus stood at the head of a table and invited His disciples to share a Passover meal with Him. Jesus was about to forever change the concept of a family meal. That whole “eat My flesh..drink My blood” message at the synagogue in Capernaum was finally going to make sense to the disciples. Jesus picked up the bread and said, This is my body which is broken for you.” He picked up a cup of wine and said, This cup is the new covenant in My blood which was shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” 1 Cor 11:23-26. See also Matt 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23.

New Hope Family Church is biblically-rooted in the doctrine and traditions of the early New Testament church and that’s why we partake of Holy Communion at every service. We also believe, as did the first century church, that the actual presence of Jesus is mysteriously imparted into the consecrated bread and wine and the elements are therefore not to be consumed in an unworthy manner. 1 Cor 11:27-32 We consume not just bread and wine; we consume the “Word” Himself John 1:1-5 As we feed in body and spirit, He lives in us and we live in Him. We become one with Him.

Communion is far more than just a church ritual. It’s a family meal. It brings us into the presence of God and into the presence of each other. Our family meal connects us with our Heavenly Father as it connects us with the person sitting next to us. Our family meal connects us with the entire body of Christ. It connects us with the Lutherans in the 9:30 service. It connects us with the Catholic church down the street, Saint Didacus. We are joining those on the dirt floor at the primitive church in Nigeria as they take Communion during their service. Our family meal connects us with the secret, underground house churches in China and joins us with the last remaining Orthodox monastery in Syria. We unite with believers throughout the world on Sunday morning as we all partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are one with God. We are one with each other. That’s why we call it a family meal.  Amen?