Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fear Not, America!

Dear Friends,

In America, approximately 83% are Christian believers and many of us are passionately concerned about the state of our Nation today and are fearful about our future. So we find that half of us good, church-going Christian believers, are fervently praying that our next president will be one who has said that Christians must change their religious belief that abortion is wrong and who has promised unlimited, free, tax-payer paid abortions for all women in America. 70% of all the people in America believe that Hillary is dishonest and untrustworthy and does not have the integrity needed to be our president. 

The other half of us good, church-going Christians is fervently praying that our next president will be a person who has been married three times, has cheated on all of his wives, boasts that he has had sex with some of the world's top female celebrities, brags about groping women, and whose income comes from owning casinos and strip clubs. 64% of all the people in America believe that Trump doesn’t have the right temperament and morals to be president. 

In an opinion poll last week, 25% of Millennials (age 18-35) said they’d prefer to see a giant meteor destroy the world than to have Hillary or Donald as our next president. We are seeing an unprecedented level of disgust with two of the most unpopular major-party candidates in our lifetime. That’s why I think my cat, Sean McDougal, has a good chance as a write-in candidate.

Political historians have called this the nastiest campaign in U.S. history. It’s tearing apart families, friendships and even churches. Those of us devout Christians who sit in the blue-colored pews or the red-colored pews, are now yelling back and forth across the aisles, cursing each other on their facebook pages and calling each other out for supporting the “un-christlike” candidate. That’s why we need to settle down, take a deep breath and consider this paraphrase of Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, there is neither Democrat nor Republican; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Can you say “Amen”?

My biggest concern was what this election was doing to our Christian witness in America. So the best news is what came out of a recent (October) poll where only 12% of those surveyed thought that Trump was “authentically Christian” and only 18% thought that Clinton was an authentic Christian. It would not be good if people thought that Clinton’s abortion advocacy, her lack of integrity and Trump’s sexist and racist behaviors were “Christian.”

We American Christians need to get a grip on reality. Our attention this election year should be on budget and policy matters and the eroding of our religious freedom, but we’ve become a hostage of the media’s penchant for high drama and our focus has been on  distractions like which candidate has the most sinful spouse. Is it the former president who had sex with an intern in the Oval Office or the former model who posed for lesbian porn photos? Click here to vote! Truth is that it will be either Trump or Clinton who will be bringing a ton of personal “baggage” when one of them moves into the White House. That’s why we need to remember we are casting a vote for a president and not voting to canonize a saint. (If you do want to vote for a saint, please be sure to spell my cat’s name correctly on your ballot...) 

As a church pastor, I cannot endorse political candidates. But when my advice is asked, I tell people to ignore everything you’ve read or heard about the character of the two candidates. Both campaigns have done a wonderful job at manipulating our emotions and feelings about the other candidate and creating a passionate anger that’s dividing our Nation. But Oprah said.. “You don’t have to like Clinton to vote for her” and I absolutely agree. It is also true that, “You don’t have to like Trump to vote for him.”

So, let’s set our emotions aside and get right to the bottom-line. President Barack Obama promised eight years ago that he would bring change to America. Through his executive actions, he has been very successful in making the greatest changes to our Nation and culture that we have seen in our lifetime. If you like the direction our current president has taken America, then you must vote for Clinton who has pledged to take us even further and deeper in that same direction. If you don’t like the changes you’ve seen take place in the past eight years, then you must vote for Trump who has pledged to reverse that direction and restore a pre-Obama America. It’s really that simple. Ignore the hysteria. Think objectively. Pray. Vote.

And then in a few months a new president will be seated in the White House but God will still be seated on the Throne. Fear not. The Creator of the Universe will still be in control.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

4 Things That Destroy Your Apology

Dear Friends,

“Never apologize - it’s a sign of weakness” is one of John Wayne’s most quoted movie lines. Our two current candidates for President seem to have made this their mantra because I’ve not heard a sincere apology from either one of them. On the issue of Clinton’s mishandling confidential emails containing classified information, her campaign chairman stated in an email that “She can say she’s sorry without apologizing to the American people.” Clinton said she was sorry it happened but then said it was, former Secretary of State, Colin Powell’s fault. She told an interviewer that she was “sorry this has raised all these questions” and justified her actions by saying “what I did was allowed.” The CEO of Clinton’s campaign think-tank lamented that “apologies are like her Achilles heel” meaning that admitting wrongdoing and taking responsibility is a weak and vulnerable area in her character. Hillary blamed the Republicans for stressing out her husband and causing him to have his White House affairs. After the attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, Secretary of State Clinton falsely blamed a Muslim video. We learn from Hillary that “blame-shifting” means never having to say you’re sorry.

Mr Trump is no better and he teaches us about the other “non-apology” techniques. After the release of video tapes documenting Trump’s vulgar and disgusting remarks about women, he responded by saying, “I said it. I was wrong and I apologize.” That was a textbook-perfect apology. Then he ruined it by justifying and minimizing his revolting taped remarks when he said, “It was just locker room talk.” And then to further demonstrate how not to apologize, Trump said that President Clinton’s sexual affairs in the White House were even worse than what he has done. That “non-apology” technique uses comparison to show that our wrongdoing was really not so bad because the sins of others are worse than our own. Let’s review what these two presidential candidates are teaching us...

Blame Shifting: “I’m sorry that I yelled and called you names but you just make me so angry.” (It’s your fault that I yelled and called you names)

Justifying: “I’m sorry that I yelled and called you names but I had a hard day at work today and I’m getting a headache.” (You shouldn’t be mad at me because I have an excellent reason for my verbally abusive behavior)

Minimizing: “I’m sorry that I yelled and called you names but that’s just the way I get sometimes – everyone loses it once in a while.” (You’re making too big a deal over my being a jerk. Just get over it)

Comparison: “I’m sorry that I yelled and called you names but you’ve yelled at me and even thrown things at me.” (Okay, maybe I’m a jerk but you’re even worse then I am)

Apologies include the words, “I’m sorry..” but those two words are worthless by themselves. The politician will always be sincerely sorry that his/her words/behaviors will cost them votes. The husband/wife may be sincerely sorry that they got caught in their wrongdoing or that their words/behaviors will upset the status quo in the home. And so to get out of trouble, we can fake an apology,“I’m sorry that you’re upset..” “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said..” These phony “apologies” take no ownership for the offense. There is no admission of fault or wrongdoing. When I tell you that I apologize if you were offended by what I just said, here’s what I’m really saying: “If you think I did something wrong and got your feelings hurt, I hope you get over it soon.” When there is no regret, remorse or repentance on our part, we will always sound like a slick politician as we skillfully craft a sincere-sounding statement to sound like an apology when it is not.
Why do we good, church-going Christian adults mess up, do wrong things, hurt others and then, when it comes time to apologize, we find ourselves behaving more like John Wayne than Jesus Christ? The reason is the sin of pride. I know that I sin daily – okay maybe hourly – in thought, word and deed but my pride is what keeps me from acknowledging to you any wrongdoing on my part. And that’s when, out of our weakness, apologies become our Achilles heel. Watch how the John Wayne quote about apology becomes 100% accurate by adding just two words: When you never apologize - it’s a sign of weakness”. That’s the truth. It takes strength of character to offer a true apology and the five most powerful words in the English language are, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” 

You are human. You will mess up. When you do, apologize like a Christian. Not like a politician. Understand you have done something wrong. Call it by name. Take ownership of the wrongdoing. Read about sinful King Saul who blame-shifted and passed the responsibility for his wrongdoing onto others. 1 Samuel 15:10-26 Now read King David’s apology 2 Samuel 12:13 and see why sinful David was forgiven and thereafter described as a “man after God’s own heart.” Acts 13:22  An insincere apology is given to get oneself out of trouble. A sincere and authentic apology comes from remorse which is a “moral anguish arising from repentance for past misdeeds.” It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us and brings the worst of us to our knees in remorse. Even Judas was remorseful. Matthew 27:3-4 NLT The Greek word translated as “remorse” in our Bible, means not just feeling badly for what we have done but it also involves the heart-felt desire to change one’s behavior. First, confess to God and receive His forgiveness. Then, make it right with anyone you have wronged. Go to them. Say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” Period.  Amen?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sin? Just Say No!

Dear Friends,

We’re approaching one of my favorite seasons of the year. There’s a cool crispness in the morning air. Trees in my neighbor’s yard are starting to turn orange and red. It’s nearing the time for our annual Fall journey to Oak Glen – apple country! I love apples and one of my best memories from elementary school are the “Red Delicious” apples. Every afternoon someone brought to each classroom a box of deep-red, chilled apples. My friends craved Hostess Twinkies and I craved apples.  From the sweetness of the Fuji and the Gala to the tartness of the Pink Lady and the Granny Smith, I’ve never bit into an apple I didn’t like. If you offer me the choice of a candy bar or an apple, I’ll take the apple every time. My point is this... I know why Eve did it.

But put yourself in Eve’s place. Would you have yielded to the temptation in the Garden? “Of course not!” we emphatically state. “No way!” “Not me!” Really? How can we be so sure, when we so readily yield to the temptation of that second bowl of tortilla chips at the restaurant, or the super-sized piece of chocolate cake on the hospitality table at church? How can we passionately state “No way would I yield to Eve’s temptation” as we too quickly finish that bottle of wine or double the dosage of the little pill that relaxes us and brings freedom from the day’s worries? How can we so easily say “Not me!” when we quickly yield to the temptation to repeat that delicious bit of gossip or fire off that angry email?

Now of course we know something that Adam and Eve didn’t. We’ve read the Book and we know that the consequence of yielding to that tempting apple was the fall of mankind. They didn’t know that, but they both knew what God had said about the forbidden fruit. Eve knew she was disobeying God. But let’s give Eve a break here! This was not a major sin! It was just a little snack! It was only an apple...

We can proudly deny that we give in so easily and quickly to harmful temptations, but if that had been a chilled Red Delicious apple, I’ll admit I might have pushed Eve out of the way so that I could snatch it off the tree for myself. After all.. it was only an apple..

What are your “apples”– your temptations? Worrying or being anxious? Procrastinating or putting things off? Eating too much or eating foods that are not healthy for you? Spending too much time on the internet or watching television? Spending more money than you can afford or obsessively shopping for things you don’t need? Being lazy or not working as hard as you should? Gossiping or saying unkind things about others? Being jealous or envious of others? Lying or cheating? Letting grudges escalate into bitterness and unforgiveness? Expressing anger or going “off” on someone? Drinking too much or misusing prescription medication?

Why worry about those seemingly insignificant  temptations in our life? Because, as it was with the first family, there will always be consequences when we yield to even the most minor sin. We worry about the dangers from our environment and from other people and yet it’s our own destructive behaviors and habits that are the most dangerous to us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

We too easily blame God for our temptations but He tempts no one. The source of all our temptation lies within. James 1:13-15 The place in which all temptation originates is our own thoughts and desires. We make the decision to yield to the enticement and when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our indiscretion, that’s when the Enemy whispers to us and says: “Hey don’t worry about it – it’s only an apple.”

God has given you an awesome destiny for your life and then we allow the temptations of our flesh to distract from that destiny. We know we shouldn’t yield to those temptations but we snivel, “I just can’t help myself..” Yes you can! God said, “I have set before you life and death.. therefore choose life..” Deut 30:19 When we are faced with temptations to engage in even the smallest sin, God always gives us a choice. And in the CLOUD OF UNKNOWING a 14th century monk wrote: “On the path of purity and spiritual growth, you can't afford a reckless attitude toward even the smallest sin.” Whenever we’re faced with temptation, we have a decision to make. Let’s be obedient to God and “choose life..”  Amen?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Cat in the Stable?

Felis silvestris ~ European wildcat
 Dear Friends,

Jesus and His disciples had covered a good amount of ground that day on their way to Capernaum. Tired and hungry, they were now resting at a home in a small village and waiting as the farmer’s wife and the other women were preparing a meal. As Jesus sat by Himself in the shade of the garden’s Sycamore tree and thanked God for the day, a cat jumped up on His lap. After gently padding the coarse texture of Jesus’ cloak, the cat lay down and curled up on His lap. As Jesus began to stroke her soft fur, the cat stretched out both front paws and began to purr. This is fiction of course but is it possible? A cat? With Jesus? You might be surprised to hear that my fictitious story would be not only possible but perhaps even likely to have occurred at some point in the three years of Jesus’ itinerant ministry. 

Based on archaeological evidence, we know that the Egyptians tamed cats approximately 4,000 years before the birth of Christ. The ancient Egyptians were so attached to their cats that they mummified them and entombed them with their owners so that both would enter the next life together. In 2014, at the excavation site of an elite cemetery in the ancient Egyptian city of Hierakonpolis, two adult cats and four kittens were found in a tomb. The measurements of their bones, dated 3640 BC, suggest the cats belonged to the species Felis silvestris, (see photo above) the European wildcats that were the likely ancestors of the cats who live in our homes today. 
A study published two weeks ago, sequenced DNA from 209 cats that lived from about 15,000 years ago to the 1700's in order to determine the history and migration of the ancient cats. The Middle Eastern wild cats expanded into the agricultural communities along the Mediterranean in the Old Testament days. The study suggested, “that grain stockpiles associated with these early farming communities attracted rodents, which in turn drew wild cats.” After seeing the benefit of having cats around, the humans began to tame and domesticate the feral cats.

Paul’s first missionary journey was to the Greek island of Cyprus. That was where, in 7500 BC, a human had been buried in a tomb with their cat. We can safely assume there were plenty of domesticated cats on this island by the time Paul arrived!

Yes, I know that most of us Christians believe that God created the earth in 4000 BC, but the Bible does not tell us the date that the earth was created. It was the Irish archbishop James Ussher in the 17th century who fixed the date of creation at 4000 BC. That science has established a much earlier date of creation does not at all conflict with the Creation Narrative in Genesis given to Moses by God. But that’s another topic. The important thing for Christian cat lovers to know is this. That cats were domesticated and common in the cities, farmlands and in the villages all along the Mediterranean during the New Testament days. That’s why I can say that it would be entirely possible for my fictitious story in the first paragraph to have actually happened.

Now please allow me to shake up our traditional Church story of the birth of Jesus. Was there a family of cats in the stable when Mary gave birth? The Bible doesn’t tell us what animals were there. We’ve all seen Nativity sets with oxen, sheep and goats even though those animals were typically not stabled but held in pens and pastures. I’ve even seen figurines of camels in the Nativity stable but never a cat. We don’t actually even know if Jesus was born in a stable, but we assume so because scripture tells us that after His birth, He was laid in a “manger” Luke 2:7 which is a feed trough for cows. And, anyplace where there is hay and animal feed, there are rodents and therefore the most likely animal that would have been there in the stable during the birth of Jesus Christ was a cat. 

God has given us animals to eat, animals for transportation and animals for companionship and comfort. In our ministry at the Abbey Road Villa assisted-living facility, I’ve heard from several of the women and a few men that the one they miss the most is their cat and showing them the photos of my cat brings a smile to their face. We love our pets and studies show that they are good for our mental health and emotional well-being. If God has given you one of His animals for comfort and companionship, will you take a moment to thank Him for that? 

And now... as we end this AMEN Corner you can see that my own Nativity scene will be looking a little different this year...

click to enlarge