Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Eye of the Tornado ~ Part Two

Eye of the Tornado: Part One   Part Two   Part Three

Dear Friends,

It was 110 degrees in Sylmar last Sunday. I’m sure glad I don’t live in one of our county’s desert communities where it can get hot. I’m also grateful for the air conditioning I have in my house. I can relax on a Sunday afternoon and read in a cool environment while my house is completely surrounded by the extreme unrelenting heat. In the afternoon there was an 870 acre fire three miles away that Santa Ana winds were fast-blowing towards my house that sits at the base of the hills. But as the intense heat rose from the valley floor, the swirling winds suddenly reversed and the fire was now being driven in another direction. Smoke and dust whirled in the hot winds outside and it was suffocating to breath. Inside my house, the filtered air was clean and fresh. I was in a pleasant micro-environment completely unlike what was taking place outside my house. It was calm. Cool. Peaceful music. I’m sensing the sacred holiness of the moment as I’m enveloped in the tranquility and serenity. It was like being in the eye of the tornado.

Many of us feel as if we are caught up in a cultural tornado today. Last week’s headlines: Vogue fashion magazine, proclaims that this is the “age of the witch” and “every woman is a witch.” Another top Hollywood celebrity calls for the assassination of our President and a CBS news anchor called the recent attempt to assassinate a republican congressman “self-inflicted” because of his politics. An MSNBC news host “explained” the assassination attempt by pointing out that the congressman was a co-sponsor of a bill to define marriage as between a man and a woman and he voted to strike down Obamacare. Nuclear arms experts believe that North Korea has, or very soon will have, the capability of striking Hawaii with a nuclear bomb and both Hawaii and Japan are educating their citizens on how to survive a nuclear attack. Islamic experts predict that the terrorism we see in Britain and Europe is a preview of what we can expect in America as Islam spreads to our Country. Last week, Muslim extremists flew an Islamic State (ISIS) flag over a waterway in New Hampshire and the ACLU argued that it had a first amendment right to be there. In Hartford, Conn, a progressive liberal Trinity College professor called all white people “inhumane” and said “all (expletive) white people need to die.” In Canada, a law was passed last week making it a criminal offense for a  Christian school to read or teach any Bible scriptures that the government finds offensive. In Columbia, three men became legally married to each other. Does reading the above make you feel tense? Worried? Angry? Sad? If the current events in our Nation and the world make you feel as if you are surrounded by a tornado of hate and the breakdown of society, it can be overwhelming at times. Like living outside in 110 degree heat, we feel as if we are suffocating. We need to move into the eye of the tornado.

One way of doing that is to limit our intake of “news” and be more discerning about the media’s attempts to manipulate public opinion. Back in the days when news was objectively reported, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America and he inspired me to major in journalism in college. But when the news media became politicalized, journalism integrity died. Today, both liberal and conservative news sources select stories that fit their constructed narrative and spin those stories in a way that is designed to alter public opinion and mold the minds of Americans to fit their political agenda. We used to call that “propaganda” and today we call it “news.” Perhaps we need to limit our exposure to the “news” and spend more time in the eye of the tornado. 

If you find yourself stressed and tense with the events of the world, you may need to spend more time in the Word of God than you do in the World of Man. Do you have trouble sleeping at night? One of the most emotionally and physically damaging things we can do to ourselves is to watch the nightly news before falling asleep. We can become tense, stressed and have difficulty falling asleep. You might find that one of the best places for your Bible is on the bedstand so that the last thing you read at night before falling asleep is the Word of God. Many start their day with upsetting morning news and then find themselves filled with rage when they get cut off on the freeway or highly offended by an inconsequential remark when they get to work. Start your day with your Bible or a favorite devotional. Listen to Christian music. Pray. Eat a healthy breakfast. Thank God for all the wonderful things He has given you and done for you. Start your day in the eye of the tornado.

And, trust in God! While He permits us to self-destruct by exerting our will and turning toward evil, God is still in control. And, know that the pervasive hate we see in our Nation is not sustainable. God is love. Hate from political and religious extremists does not ultimately work in God’s Creation. Many democratic politicians are having second thoughts about the direction that extreme progressives have hijacked their party. The social justice platform of the old democratic party was rooted in the Bible. Democratic Christian presidents Kennedy, Carter and Clinton knew the Word of God and listened to “activists” like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Today the atheist-led progressive democrats are rooted in a secular platform of hate and violence. Things will change for the better. Last Sunday the intense heat shifted the direction of the winds in Sylmar. In politics, the intense hate will shift the direction of the democratic party back to a more moderate agenda. 

Last Sunday it was 110 degrees. Next Sunday it’s predicted to be in the 80's. Things change. They always do. So we just need to chill out..Come into the eye of the swirling storm..Rest in God’s peace..It’s gonna be okay..God’s in control. to be continued.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Eye of the Tornado ~ Part One

Eye of the Tornado: Part One   Part Two   Part Three
Dear Friends,

A few years back I had a friend that we’ll call “Roy.” He moved back to Texas where he was born and raised and so I’ve lost contact with him but I’ll never forget the story he told me about the time when he chased down a tornado. I can’t write with a “Texas twang” but I’ll tell you the story as close as I can get to the way Roy told it to me. There are apparently about 140 tornadoes that occur annually in Texas so when you're a Texas teenager who rides wild, unbroken horses just to have some fun in your life, what do you do when a tornado lands in town? You chase it down in the pickup. He told me that as the tornado approached, he and a buddy got the dogs in the pickup truck and a case of beer because, as Roy explained it, good old Texas boys don't do anything without their dogs and a case of beer. 

Roy saw the direction the tornado was going in so he hauled off to chase it down and intercept it. As good fortune would have it, the tornado was headed directly toward a gas station on the interstate. Now Roy knew he'd have to drive fast to get to that gas station before the tornado hit it and his luck was holding out since there wasn't a car on the road or a human in sight. That’s because they'd all heard a tornado was coming. 

Roy sped that old pickup toward the gas station so that they could park right next to the gas pumps under the tin awning. Now those boys weren't dummies. They'd seen what tornadoes could do to a town and they knew it could be dangerous, so they were fortunate enough to be able to find that tin awning to park under it for protection. Now I'm telling you the story exactly as Roy told it to me and it might seem that with a deadly tornado approaching no one in that pickup truck was using good judgement but that isn't true. The dogs in the back of the pickup were smart enough to crawl under a bed-mounted tool box for protection.

The winds were fierce and dark. It went as black as night as the leading edge of the tornado past over them. They had to hold on tight to keep from being picked up and blown away. It was screaming loud. Debris from destroyed farmhouses and carcases of dead farm animals filled the howling blackness as it completely enveloped them. Then in another moment, they were in the eye of the tornado and the savage winds had stopped. Roy looked around and saw that they were completely surrounded by the black swirling winds but directly above them was calm blue sky. 

Roy told me that in the center of the tornado it was eerily quiet. It was still. Surrounded by death and devastation, but in the eye of the tornado it was tranquil and peaceful. Then the other edge of the torpedo passed over them and it was gone. The tornado had passed right over them. It had completely torn the roof off the gas station awning they were parked under, but through the grace of God, the gas pumps they were next to had been untouched. The dogs crawled out of the pickup and Roy bit off a fresh chunk of chewing tobacco as he cracked open a cold Lone Star beer...

I’m thinking that we can learn something from Roy's story. I don't know about you but it feels to me like we are in a cultural storm of destruction today – as if we are swirling in a sea of political havoc and mayhem. Many of us struggle with today’s current events and are fearful about our Nation’s future. 150 years ago, a Civil War between the North and the South divided our Nation. Today an Uncivil War between the Left and the Right is doing the same thing with most of the hatred being fueled by the media and the progressive left. Hillary’s VP running mate, Tim Kaine, called for democrats to “fight in the streets” and Obama’s attorney general posted a video in which she called for violence and urged people to “march and bleed in the streets.” 

Liberal activists answered the call for violence and in April, the Portland, Ore. Rose Parade was canceled after 200 progressive democrats threatened violent attacks on any Republican parade entry. More recently, the most-read liberal news source, Huffington Post, published an article calling for the “execution” of the President and all Republican leadership. A few days later, a Bernie Saunders campaign worker attempted to assassinate Republican congressmen at a baseball practice game. Activists are calling for progressive liberals to engage in a Civil War against all Republicans and this political hatred is dividing families and even our churches. 

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is the most progressive liberal denomination in our Nation and at an ELCA college in Minnesota, St Olif’s, they held a liturgical vigil for “death to America.” Then a violent mob of these Lutheran students publically declared they would beat up any Republican students on the campus. The men and women conservative Lutheran students received so many death threats that they have left this Christian College out of fear for their physical safety. (and yes I have many ELCA Lutheran friends who grieve along with me that the evil hated we see enveloping America has even permeated our Christian colleges.) 

In this tornado of hate swirling around us, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you read news stories. We can’t avoid this cultural storm of violent intolerance. But we don’t have to dwell in it. We can step into the center of that dark tornado. Where there is calm. Quiet. Stillness. It’s in the “eye” of the cultural tornado that we find the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Next week we’ll see how we can come into the eye of the storm.    to be continued...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A June Reminiscence

Dear Friends,

For the past few weeks, a certain loved one has been incessantly reminding me, and with considerable uncalled-for delight, that my birthday is in this month. 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 am, but as I reminisce about the past 68 years of my life, I can’t help but to remember with fondness, what us old-timers call the “Good Old Days.” 

As a pastor with a church in a Senior Assisted Living Facility, I am blessed to be serving a congregation where, if I was living there, I’d be in the “youth group.” For our church today, the “good old days” were the 20's, 30's and 40's. They were all born before televisions were in homes and they are amazed that I use an app on my smart-phone to control the sound system that we use for the service. As the youngster in their midst, my “good old days” were the 50's and 60's. I’ll never forget the thrill of seeing the delivery van pull up to our house with our brand-new, state-of-the-art, black and white Zenith television set. In those days it was a hundred pound piece of furniture.

One of the neat things about summer was being 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 live television show for children that showed cartoons. Sheriff John 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, kids in elementary schools did not drink, have sex or do drugs. Things are different now. Elementary schools are where it starts and by High School, 30% of students binge drink at least monthly. We knew about homosexuals but 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 gaming and other on-line sites where hate speech against women and minorities is pervasive. Rap and Hip-Hop “music” promotes violence and sexual assaults. Music was different back then. Frankie Avalon never sang a song glorifying the rape of a woman.

In the 50's, 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 neighbors or strangers. We helped them. They helped us. Life was different back then.. 

I have 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 at top) 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. Roy and Dale would be blacklisted today. According to those in the entertainment industry, actors in Hollywood are now bashed and attacked if they publicly acknowledge their Christian faith. 

Things were different then because, like the apostle Paul, Romans 1:16 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 share our faith with others but many of us are too fearful to do so. 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. You and me. We are called to be unashamed of the Gospel and boldly live out our Christianity, not just in our words, but in our lifestyle. Just like in the Good Old Days!  Amen?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Be a Blessor!

Dear Friends,

Not much in the news surprises me anymore but a news report last week, gobsmacked me. First some background. You might remember that 500 years ago in Wittenberg, Germany, a rebel Catholic Priest, Martin Luther, fed up with his Roman Church nailed a proclamation to the church door and thus was born what we know today as Protestant Christianity. The news report I read, told of a progressive Evangelical Lutheran church* who, in an effort to reach outside of their church doors and bless the people of Wittenberg, had installed a “Priest Robot” in the public square. The robot senses a person in front of it and wishes them a “warm welcome.” The “priest” asks the person if they want to be blessed by a male or female voice and when it receives an answer, the robot smiles. It then raises both arms to the heavens and a bright light radiates out of the robot’s hands and shines on the person being blessed. The “priest” then says, “God bless and protect you” and recites a Bible verse. The church reports that some people are returning every day for the automated priest blessing. Now I apologize for my narrow-minded, orthodox understanding of the Bible, but I don’t read anywhere in the Gospels that Jesus appointed and ordained the 12 robots to do His work and build the church. And if Martin Luther was alive today, he’d be smashing the Wittenberg Priest Robot with an axe and running that Evangelical Lutheran church out of town! What’s next? The Wittenberg Kommunion Kiosk dispensing plastic cups of grape juice and a stale bread wafer?

As a Christian believer, there is no greater gift you can give someone than to bless them in the name of Jesus. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia defines a blessing as a spoken invocation of God’s favor on another. God is the source of all blessings. James 1:17 You and I have nothing to give on our own; we are simply the intermediary between God and the person receiving the blessing. That means we must have a relationship with God through Jesus before we can invoke God’s favor on another. Neither an atheist nor a robotic “priest” machine can invoke God’s blessings on someone. But as an adopted son or daughter of God, you do have the authority to do that. You can invoke the blessing of God on another. Do you?

There are two kinds of blessings we see in our Bible. To bless God doesn’t mean that we presumptuously bestow our favor on Him. Blessing God means expressing our gratitude towards Him. The second type of blessing is the invocation of God’s favor that we’re talking about here. The Bible is filled with examples of priests bestowing God’s blessing on the people, Leviticus 9:23  Numbers 6:23-26 and many examples of Godly people invoking His blessings on another person. Ruth 2:4  Ruth 2:20  2 Samuel 6:18 We bless our loved ones, Genesis 24:60 and Jesus tells us to even bless our enemies. Matthew 5:44 When we bless someone, we may find ourselves interceding for them. We stand in the gap for them – between them and God – and in our blessing, we ask that God give to them what they may have difficulty asking for themselves. 

We can simply say, “May God bless you” but than so can the Wittenberg Priest Robot. Once you’ve discerned what the person needs to hear from God and you seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our blessings sound more like these: May the Lord God bless you and keep you from all fear and anxiety...  May God bless you and keep you safe...  May the Lord God bless you and give you His peace in your heart today...  May God bless you and cause His face to shine upon you...  May God bless you and give you the wisdom to make your decision...  May God bless you and keep you strong during this season of testing... May God bless you and restore you today... May God bless you and keep you in His hands...

When we invoke God's favor on another, we bring the reality of God's presence into their lives. When we say,“May God bless you today” and then give them a specific blessing, we are speaking a prophetic word from God into their lives.That’s why, before we can truly bless others, we first need our own time with God. We can find ourselves uttering only meaningless platitudes when we speak out of our spiritual emptiness. We can only invoke those specific blessings from God when we are living in His presence and moving through our own life, hand-in-hand with Him. 

You are all blessed indeed. But I believe that God wants more for you. He wants you to be a blessor of others. He wants you to bless your family and your friends. He wants you to be a blessor of the person who cuts your hair. God wants you to be the one who intersects the life of the checker at Vons with the reality of His Son. When you’re in the doctor’s office waiting room, God wants you to be the one sitting next to the person who needs to be blessed by God at that very moment. God wants you to speak life-transforming blessings to others. No “priest robot” can do that. Only you can. That’s why God wants you to be more than just blessed. He wants you to be a blessor! Amen?

* NOTE: This Wittenberg church is not the ELCA Lutheran Church in America