Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pray For Trump?

Dear Friends,

During our church service last Wednesday at the assisted-living home in Sylmar, I deeply offended some of the people who had faithfully attended the services for the past year. Instead of the usual encouraging head-nodding and “amens,” I saw cold, hard stares. Instead of staying behind after the service to fellowship, some immediately rushed out of the room in their wheelchairs as soon as I finished the blessing of the congregation. They may not come back. 

This was not a loud, pulpit-pounding exhortation to the people. I knew what needed to be said was controversial and had given it much prayer. This church congregation is composed of Catholics, Mainline Christians, Orthodox and Evangelical Christians with people of different races, cultures and ethnicities. I am sensitive to different church traditions and don’t directly denounce non-biblical theology and traditions, but I do preach the Jesus-centered, Gospel message without apology. So in full awareness of our diversity, I said what I said with as much love and kindness as possible. The reaction to my words by some dear people, was one of instant outrage. Let me tell you what my offensive and infuriating words were. I said, “Those of us who are Christian believers need to pray for Donald Trump.” One person got right up and walked out.

Then I said: “President Trump has said and done some very offensive, harsh and upsetting things and while our human tendency is to hate, Jesus tells us that we are to forgive others. We need to pray for our President and even give thanks for him. That may sound outrageous to you, but God tells us to do outrageous things that we wouldn’t have chosen to do on our own. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 NLT ‘I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.’ And in 1 Peter 2:17 we read, ‘Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.’ Some countries still today call their leader a ‘king’; in America we call him the ‘President.’ Our Bible tells us that we are to honor and pray for our President.”

I said, “I am hopeful today because, nearly all the key policy-makers in Trump’s Cabinet and Administration are Evangelical Christians, main-line Christians or Catholic. That’s one of the wisest things I have seen our new President do because, Proverbs 13:20 says, ‘He who walks with the wise will become wise’ and Proverbs 12:15 tells us that ‘Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.’ And Trump has surrounded himself with advisors whose faith requires them to love God with all their heart and then to love others. If you’re a Christian, then knowing that our Country will be run by many Christian men and women who have the same Biblical values as we do should be an encouragement to us all and give us hope for the future of our Nation.”

I said, “I know that some of us are feeling uncertain about our future and maybe feeling threatened. Some of us may even be fearful that we will be persecuted by this new government administration. It is highly unlikely that will ever happen, but even if it did, Jesus tells us that we still need to pray for our President. Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-44, ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.’” 

(At that point, one woman said something to her neighbor and then stormed out of the room as she loudly shoved empty chairs to the side with her walker. Later on, I asked her seat-mate what the woman had said before she left. I was told, “She was angry when you read what Jesus said about praying for our enemy. She said that was blasphemy.” God have mercy on her soul for judging the words and commandments of Jesus Christ as blasphemous..)

I said, “According to the Word of God, praying for our President is not an option if you are a Christian and our calling to do so doesn’t depend on whether we like the President or not. I know many Christians who did not like Obama but they faithfully prayed for him and his family. My own prayer is that those who loved Obama and dislike Trump will also do what is right and pray for our new President and his family.”

Pray that Donald Trump will come to love God more dearly every day and that the Father will infuse in him a deep and respectful love for others. Pray that the Christian men and women who surround the President will hear from God, make godly decisions and recommendations and that Trump’s ears would be open to their wisdom. Pray that God will empower our President to do what is right in all that he says and does and that he would receive Spirit-led guidance to make all the decisions for our Country according to God’s will. Pray that God will grant him the grace of unity and peace to bring our broken Nation back to a place of healing and wholeness. Pray that he will be used by God to bring healing and reconciliation between races, countries and all men and women. Pray for the protection of the President and his family and pray that he would be used by God to protect Americans from all those who endeavor to do us harm. Pray that the resources of America be used to help all those who need our help – first those on our own soil and then others throughout the world. Pray that our Nation will enjoy God’s blessings, peace and prosperity during President Trump’s administration. 

We’ve seen a lot of protests lately. Protests are loud, flashy, newsworthy and dramatic. Then it’s over. Protest signs go in the trash. Damaged property is repaired. Protests are not sustainable. Prayer is sustainable. Prayer is powerful. Prayer changes everything. And now you have a decision to make. Will you pray for Trump?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hope For Our Nation?

Dear Friends,

For 221 years America has been a nation with Judeo-Christian values but in the last eight years, the population of Christian-hating atheists has exploded and our Nation’s values have been turned upside down. We read that Bibles contain “hate speech” and are pulled from library shelves. Employees are terminated for wearing a cross. Prayer is prohibited in schools, but the school’s Common Core curriculum requires that the Five Tenets of Islam be taught our children. Military officers are disciplined for having a visible Bible, chaplains are not permitted to pray in the name of Jesus Christ and Christmas trees are forbidden in VA Hospitals. Why this sudden increased hostility and intolerance toward Christian beliefs? 

Former-president Obama promised to “fundamentally transform America” and declared immediately after his inauguration that under his administration, “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation.” How did this Christian nation of ours become so secularized during these few short years? 

While the President gives general over-all guidance, those in his Administration and his Cabinet are the ones who most directly shape our Nation through their policy-making decisions. Our former-president, appointed liberal progressive politicians, like himself, to Cabinet and key positions. Demographically, 31% of these solid liberals are atheists who are leading the war against Christianity. 33% of political liberals self-identify as “progressive Christians” who consider Evangelical Christians to be their enemy, interpret scripture through the filter of today’s cultural worldview and believe that their faith requires them to attain social justice through political activism. Only about 6% of political liberals are Evangelical Christians who believe in the Bible as “God's inspired Word to humankind, perfect in truth in the original text and believe it is the final authority in all matters of doctrine and faith – above all human authority.” I could not find a single Evangelical Christian in Mr. Obama’s Cabinet or who was in a key administrative policy-making position.

Now, contrast the out-going Cabinet and Administration with our new President’s proposed Administration and Cabinet:

Mike Pence, Vice President. Strong Evangelical Christian. “My Christian faith is at the heart of who I am.” As Trump wheels and deals on the international scene with other nations, Pence will be the top politician who focuses on the administration of our own Nation and who has the ability to reverse the damage done by  the recent attacks against America’s traditional Christian values.

Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff. (Some former presidents and vice-presidents believed that the Chief of Staff is the most powerful position after the President himself.) Priebus is Greek Orthodox, a Bible study leader and leader of the young married Christian couples at his church. As the chairman of the GOP, Priebus released an Easter message saying: "As our church has done for generations, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the love of God in providing a Savior. Just as the first Christians praised God at the sight of the empty tomb, we too praise our good and merciful God today for his victory over the grave"

Dr Ben Carson, proposed head of Housing and Urban Development. Evangelical Christian. Lay preacher in Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Rex Tillerson, proposed Secretary of State. Devout life-long Christian who attends and tithes to a Congregational church and teaches a Bible study.

Scott Pruitt, proposed head of Environmental Protection Agency. Evangelical Christian. Deacon at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla.

Andrew Puzder, proposed Secretary of Labor. Described by those who know him as a man with a “deep Catholic faith.”

Sean Spicer, Press Secretary. Graduate of Catholic school at a New England Benedictine Abbey. “My personal relationship with God is the most important thing in my life.”

Betsy DeVos, proposed head of the Department of Education. Evangelical Christian with deep roots in the Christian Reformed denomination. Graduated from Calvin College and attends one of our Nation’s largest megachurches.

Jeff Sessons, proposed Attorney General. Methodist. Lay leader at his church and a Sunday School teacher.

Lt Gen. Michael T. Flynn, National Security Advisor. Devout Irish-Catholic.

Mike Pompeo, proposed Director of CIA. Deacon at Eastminister Presbyterian Church. Sunday School teacher.

Nikki Haley, proposed Ambassador to the United Nations. Convert to Christianity as an adult. “My faith in Christ has a profound impact on my daily life and I look to Him for guidence in every decison I make.” She attends a Methodist Church.

Tom Price, proposed head of Department of Health and Human Services. Grew up Methodist now active in Presbyterian church.

Rick Perry, proposed Energy Secretary. Evangelical Christian who attends a non-denominational Texas megachurch.

Ken Blackwell, Domestic Policy Advisor. Evangelical Christian. Senior Advisor at Family Research Council.

Our last President put more atheists in key policy-making positions than any other President. Our next President will be putting more Evangelical and committed Christians in key policy-making positions than any other president in our lifetime, and I’m thinking that he may be wiser than his celebrity persona might lead one to believe. Christian believers can have hope today for the political and cultural future of our Nation because, through the grace of God, and the influence of strong Christian men and women in Trump’s life, we are seeing a Biblical principle in our new President’s Cabinet and Administration picks.... “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” Proverbs 12:15 NLT “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.” Proverbs 11:14 NLT “ a multitude of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 24:6   Amen?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Do You Have Your GPS?

Dear Friends,

When I was much younger, stronger and far more reckless than I am today, my yearly vacation from a stress-filled job as a law office administrator was to go backpacking in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in Oregon. Kalmiopsis was the most rugged and remote wilderness area I could find on the West Coast. It had deep rushing rivers, steep rocky canyons, extreme elevation changes, mountain lions and it was known for its abundance of rattlesnakes. I would go in alone for a week and never meet another backpacker. Backpacker Magazine had deemed the southern portion of Kalmiopsis too rugged and dangerous for backpackers. That made it the perfect place for me because I wanted to be alone. In the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, every day was a victory of survival. Where I pushed myself to the breaking point to discover my limitations and do some deep soul searching.

Back at the office I would be asked, “Did you ever get lost?” Of course I did! When you are finding your way through a wilderness area using non-maintained, unmarked trails, animal trails and sometimes your own “shortcuts,” you will get lost. You frequently don't know where you are! There is disorientation and confusion but never fear. There is no fear because an experienced backpacker expects to get lost and he’s prepared.

Civilian GPS (global positioning system) devices had not been developed and my only navigational tool was a topographical map and a compass. But when your survival is at stake, you don't rely on what can be lost or broken. So you study the sun – always knowing its position in the sky at every time of the day. When you get lost, the position of the sun will help you to become reoriented and headed in the right direction. I carried a seventy pound pack, but my canteen held only enough water for one day. From the high places, you study the terrain to determine the likely places where a stream would be and you look for animal tracks, knowing that well-traveled animal trails often lead to water. You know that the North Star points north. You have faith that no matter how lost you find yourself at any moment, you will have the ability to reorient yourself. And I was without human companions, but I never traveled alone. Like the early Christian monks who  found God in the desert, I too found God in the wilderness and walked every step in His Presence.

In life transitions we can also sometimes feel lost and disoriented. We don't know where we are at the moment and may not even know where we need to be. We may be confused and uncertain about which direction to go in. We may even feel a little frightened and fearful about our future. Both big and little upsets in life are all so.. well.. unexpected!

In the wilderness, when you expect to be lost, you won't panic when you are. When you have prepared to be lost and have equipped yourself with tools for survival, you are never lost for long. When you are prepared, you have the confidence that you’ll never become so disoriented that you'll stumble off a cliff or wander in the wilderness forever. You fully trust that no matter how lost you get, you'll always find your way again.

In 2017, expect to be lost! Expect there will be times when you will be disoriented and uncertain about your future. Expect a life transition. Expect times victoriously dancing in unrestrained joy and times also of discontent and depression. Expect a serious situation you’ve not planned for. Expect the Enemy of this world to throw you a curve. Expect perhaps even a crisis of faith: Is God really here with me now? Life happens. Expect it. Prepare for it.

Prepare yourself with the right navigational tools. Your Bible is the “compass and map” that shows you where you are and how to get to where you need to be. Look for and follow in the tracks of godly men and women that lead to the Living Water. And study the Son. Know where He is at all times in your life. Know what His voice sounds like. Know what the leading of the Holy Spirit feels like. No matter how lost you become, when you have studied the Son, He will always help you to become reoriented and headed in the right direction.

The wilderness of life is rugged. Expect to get lost. But if you’re a Christian believer you have a built-in “GPS.” That’s “God’s Positioning System” and His GPS will always help you find your way again. That’s why no matter what challenging circumstances you may find yourself in during 2017, you will have the ability, through the help of God, to recover and flourish again. Always expect victory! For He is with you when you're lost in the valley and He's there when you're dancing once again on the top of the mountain. Amen?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Dear Friends,

It’s 5 am and just a few days before Christmas. I start my day bundled up against the chill in the house, sitting in my reading chair with a cup of hot, strong coffee and a book. My cat jumps up on my chest and as I put down my book and enfold him in my arms, he turns upside down, looks up at me and begins to purr. He’s a fluffy, long-hair “tuxedo” meaning black with a white chest. In less than a minute he’s sound asleep and I think how differently his life turned out for him. Sean McDougal was born to a feral cat on my property and rescued on Father’s Day in 2014 when he was four to five weeks old. He was a little over a pound and loaded with fleas, ear mites, worms and an intestinal infection all of which were quickly taken care of by my Vet. With the numerous coyotes in my neighborhood, this feral kitten was destined for a short life but he did not initially appear grateful to be “rescued.” After he was brought in the house, he hid from me, terrified that the human-monster was going to eat him. 

But this morning, I look down at the healthy, thirteen pound cat in my arms who makes occasional kitten-like whimpering sounds as he sleeps. He’s warm, safe and well-fed. I think of the many homeless in Sylmar on this week before Christmas who are not anywhere near as fortunate as my cat. I look online to see that according to our local weather station at a fire camp in Sylmar, it’s 38 degrees outside with winds at 30-35 mph and gusting up to 52 mph. At this morning’s temperature and wind speed, the wind-chill factor is 26 degrees and you will get frostbite on any exposed skin in thirty minutes. I can’t image what it must be like to live outdoors when it’s this cold. In another hour, I’ll take Sean’s wet food out of the refrigerator and heat it for a few seconds in the microwave to just take the chill out of it. Homeless women with children will pick through trash cans to find their breakfast this morning. Lord, I don’t have the resources to “rescue” a homeless person but show me what I can do right now to ease the suffering of some of those who live in my community. That morning, I go through my closets and take an armload of coats to the Sylmar homeless shelter.

Sean has his own “toy chest” filled with high-tech, interactive cat toys. He prefers to play with a plastic cap from a bottle of drinking water. He’ll ignore the life-like, battery-operated mouse and spend an hour batting around and chasing a pencil that he swiped from the holder on my desk. But he always shares his favorite things with me. I have slip-on shoes just inside both the front door and the back door and usually a pair on the floor in my bedroom. As soon as he finishes playing with his toys, he will frequently carry one of them over and drop it in my shoes so that I can play with it too. I am far less charitable. Dear Lord, teach me how to be less selfish and show me how to more fully give to others the material things that you have so generously given to me.

I’m the introvert who would have been happy living as a monk in a monastery. Sean is an out-going, feline extrovert. When the air conditioning repairman came to my house, Sean rubbed up against his leg until he reached down to pet him. When people come over, my cat will run to them, lie down at their feet and turn upside down to invite them to stroke the soft fur on his stomach. As an introvert, I prefer to remain a safe distance from people. Lord, please show me how to be as hospitable as my cat. When I tend to put up shields to protect my inner vulnerability, help me God to more easily trust in people and to have faith in their goodness.

The official story is that I rescued Sean, but if he could talk, he’d probably tell you that he rescued me. I’m not sure which one of us is right and maybe we both are. But... (you dog lovers can roll your eyes about now) I will admit that God may have used my cat to make me a better person because he has inspired my three New Year’s Resolutions: 1) Be more other-centered and more sensitive to the needs of others. 2) Be more generous in sharing with others the material things and financial provision that God has so generously given to me. 3) Be more trusting of the goodness of others, slower to judge and criticize and quicker to accept and embrace.

The most popular New Year’s Resolutions revolve around a desire for more money, more exercise, better health and a better job. Along with the vast majority of well-intentioned people, I too have made and broken those resolutions for self-improvement. My natural focus is on bettering myself. But in the Kingdom of God when it comes to “betterment,” the focus of Jesus is always on the loving betterment of others. “This is my commandment, that you love each other in the same way I have loved you.” John 15:12 What if it was different this year? What if we were all less self-centered and more other-centered? What if Jesus were to write down your top three New Year’s Resolutions and hand them to you? What would they be?